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HIV and pregnancy

What you can do to help reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby.

When you're pregnant, the well-being of your unborn child is, in many ways, in your hands. During early visits to your doctor, you will learn the steps you need to take to keep your baby healthy during the months before delivery.

One of the steps your doctor may suggest is a routine blood test for HIV/AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend that all pregnant women be tested for this serious infection.

The test is important because, if you have HIV, you can pass it on to your child.

Fortunately, treatment may help prevent transmission of the virus from you to your baby.

Treatment choices

If you're diagnosed with HIV during pregnancy, you'll need to talk with your doctor about when to start treatment with HIV medicines. When you start treatment depends mostly on whether you need treatment only to prevent your baby from becoming infected or you also need treatment for your own health.

Your doctor will recommend a treatment schedule that is most likely to help.

If you were diagnosed with HIV before pregnancy and are already taking medications, keep doing so unless your doctor advises you to stop. Failure to take the medicines could lead to problems for both you and your unborn child.

However, your doctor may advise you to switch to a different medicine to minimize the risk of side effects.  

A few medicines might cause exhaustion, weakness, nausea, loss of appetite, eye or skin yellowing, severe skin rash, or flu-like symptoms. Report these symptoms to your doctor.

Delivering your baby

You should discuss delivery options—cesarean section (C-section) versus vaginal delivery—with your healthcare provider early in your pregnancy. Both options have certain risks. The best choice for you will depend on your health and your treatment status.

Mother-to-child transmission may be more likely with vaginal delivery, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). However, vaginal delivery may be necessary if your water breaks and labor is progressing rapidly.

A C-section carries risk, just as any surgery does. In addition to an increased risk of infection and anesthesia-related problems, the baby is at greater risk for breathing problems during delivery.

Testing your child for HIV

Babies born to HIV-positive mothers should be tested for the virus, according to the HHS.

In the event your baby does have HIV, post-birth treatments are available. Medication and other measures can improve the health and lengthen the lives of children with HIV, according to CDC.

Looking to the future

Because HIV can be transmitted from mother to child in breast milk, the CDC recommends against breastfeeding. Instead, feed your baby with infant formula or donor breastmilk from a milk bank.

To maintain your own health, continue to follow your HIV medication schedule unless your doctor advises you differently. With your doctor, develop long-term treatment plans that will benefit both you and your baby.

Reviewed 2/12/2024

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