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Pregnancy & Childbirth

Can I Transmit HIV to My Baby?

Yes. An HIV-positive mother can transmit HIV to her baby in three ways:

  1. During pregnancy
  2. During vaginal childbirth
  3. Through breastfeeding

Fortunately, if you are HIV-positive, treatment with a combination of HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) can improve your health and greatly lower the chance that you will pass HIV to your baby before, during, or after birth. The treatment is most effective for preventing HIV transmission to babies when started as early as possible during pregnancy. However, there are still great benefits to beginning treatment even during labor or shortly after the baby is born.

Should I Get Tested For HIV If I Am Pregnant?

Yes. Get tested for HIV when you are planning a pregnancy or as soon as possible after you find out you are pregnant, even if you have been tested before.

CDC also recommends that some women receive a second HIV test in their third trimester if they meet certain criteria, such as continuing to engage in behaviors that put you at high risk for getting HIV.

Not all health care facilities offer an automatic HIV test for pregnant women. Be sure to request one if it isn’t offered.

Of course, some women go into labor before they have been tested. If a pregnant woman goes into labor without having had an HIV test, CDC recommends that she be given a rapid HIV test in the labor and delivery room. That way, if the test is positive, the doctors can work with her to help prevent passing HIV to the baby.

How Can I Prevent Passing HIV to My Baby Before Birth?

If you are HIV-positive and pregnant, you can greatly lower your risk of passing HIV to your baby and protect your own health by taking ART during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

The goal of ART is to reduce the amount of HIV in your body to an undetectable level (called an undetectable viral load).

Pregnant women can safely use many HIV medicines during pregnancy. Talk to your health care provider about the benefits and risks of specific HIV medicines when choosing an HIV regimen to use during pregnancy.

And if you are already on ART, don’t stop taking your medicine. It is important to stay on treatment to protect your health and prevent passing HIV to your baby. But your HIV regimen may change during pregnancy because pregnancy can affect how the body processes medicine. Work closely with your health care provider to find an HIV regimen that is right for you and always talk to your provider before making any changes.

Also talk to your health care provider about your delivery options. A scheduled cesarean delivery (sometimes called a C-section) at 38 weeks of pregnancy is recommended to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission for women with a high or unknown HIV viral load near the time of delivery.

All decisions regarding the use of HIV medicines during childbirth and the choice of a cesarean delivery are made jointly by a woman and her health care providers, and depend on the woman’s individual situation.

For more information, see the NIH AIDSInfo fact sheets, the Use of HIV Medicines During Pregnancy and Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV During Childbirth.

How Can I Prevent Passing HIV to My Baby After Birth?

If you are HIV-positive, your baby will receive an HIV medicine called zidovudine (brand name: Retrovir) for 6 weeks after birth. This HIV medicine is intended to protect the baby from infection with any HIV that passed from you during childbirth.

Your baby will be tested several times over the course of 6 months to determine whether the baby has HIV. If testing shows that the baby does have HIV, the baby will be switched from zidovudine to ART.

Fortunately, few babies in the United States are born with HIV because most pregnant women with HIV and their babies receive HIV medicines.

Also, because HIV can spread in breast milk, women with HIV who live in the United States should not breastfeed their babies. In the United States, infant formula is a safe and healthy alternative to breast milk.

For more information, see the NIH AIDSInfo fact sheet, Preventing HIV Transmission After Birth.

Last revised: 09/28/2015