Pregnancy and HIV

What you need to know before starting a family.

Years ago, if a woman was infected with HIV, it meant that she lost all hope of having children. The fear of transmitting her HIV to her unborn baby was too high of a risk for most women. But the advent of HIV medications and the acceptance by physicians to the idea of HIV positive women getting pregnant has given women new hope in fulfilling their dream of becoming pregnant and having children.

But getting pregnant while living with HIV is not without risk, if women are aware of these risks and work closely with their doctors, there is no reason HIV should prevent them from becoming moms.

How does HIV infect my unborn baby?

HIV can infect children of HIV positive women in one of three ways.
  • HIV can pass from mother to unborn baby while growing inside the womb and sharing mom’s blood supply.
  • Baby can be infected by coming in close contact with mother’s infected bodily fluids during childbirth.
  • HIV can pass from mother to baby during breast feeding and drinking mother’s milk.

Is there any way I can prevent giving my baby HIV?

Without proper precautions during pregnancy, during delivery, and after delivery, the risk of giving your baby HIV is about 25% but the good news is that the risk can be lowered to about 2-3% by following these guidelines.

  • Using HIV medications: We all know the benefits of taking our HIV medicines. Having a pregnant woman take a regimen containing AZT during the last 6 months of her pregnancy and giving AZT to the baby for at least 6 weeks after being born can significantly decrease the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby.

  • Delivering by Cesarean section (C-section): To decrease the risk of HIV transmission, exposure time to HIV infected fluids must be kept to a minimum. A C-section is quicker type of delivery with less exposure time to HIV infected fluids when compared to vaginal delivery. While at one time it was recommended that women deliver by C-Section, most experts now say that vaginal delivery is now a safe option.

  • Avoid breast milk: Because HIV can be transmitted through breast milk, women who have HIV should not breast feed their babies only baby formulas should be used.

Is becoming pregnant dangerous? Will my HIV disease get worse?

There is no evidence that being pregnant makes a woman’s HIV disease worse. However, because certain medicines (e. g. Sustiva) have been connected to birth defects in children, a woman may have to stop some of her medications, which may allow her disease to progress.

A mother must take care of herself and her baby. Women, by instinct, most often will do whatever it takes to care for their unborn child, including taking HIV regimens without missing a dose. But some women will stop their meds after the baby is born. Like anyone living with HIV, adhering to HIV therapies is an extremely important part of staying healthy. Even after delivery, moms who need HIV medicines should continue to take them. If a mother is not taking care of herself and is not staying healthy, she will be unable to care for her new baby.

It all comes down to this. The risk of passing HIV to your baby can be decreased to as little as 2% if a woman takes HIV meds at appropriate times in her pregnancy, pregnancy, delivers her baby by C-section, and does not breast feed. HIV no longer prevents a couple from starting a family. HIV no longer means a woman can’t become a mother. Again, with the proper medical care and by taking care of yourself, you can take control of your life and your future.