Pregnancy and HIV

HIV positive women who wish to become pregnant should certainly consult with physicians to help them to reduce the possibility of passing the virus to her baby. In countries with high living standards, the degree of transmission from mother to baby is reduced to below 1%, thanks to medication and care applied during therapy.

Transmission of HIV from mother to baby (usually called vertical transmission) can happen during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. HIV can pass from mother to unborn baby while growing inside the womb. Mother's HIV-positive blood also circulates in the unborn child, exposing the fetus to HIV in the process. During delivery, the newborn baby is exposed to large amounts of infected bodily fluids of a mother. Transmission can occur if the exposure is prolonged. For this reason, most HIV-positive women deliver their babies by C-section; minimizing exposure to HIV-infected bodily fluids. C-section also provides the physician with some control of any exposure that does occur. HIV can pass from mother to baby during breastfeeding. Mother's milk has very high concentrations of HIV, and without precautions, the risk of HIV infection during breastfeeding is around one in four. For that reason, women are instructed not to breastfeed if there are other options available to them; for example commercial formula.

Years ago, if a woman was HIV-positive, family planning was not an option. Pregnancy and HIV was often too much for one woman's body to handle and the fear of transmitting HIV to her unborn baby during pregnancy was too great for most women. But the advent of HIV medications and the acceptance by physicians that HIV positive women can get pregnant, carry the baby to term, and not pass HIV to the newborn has given these women renewed hope of family and motherhood. However, HIV and pregnancy together is not without risk. But if women are aware of these risks and work closely with their doctors, there is no reason HIV should prevent them from becoming a mother.

Today there are a number of solutions that can help prevent this type of transmission. For start, it is important that all pregnant women do the HIV test. If test shows positive, without proper precautions and care during pregnancy, during delivery, and after delivery, the risk of passing HIV to your baby is about 25 percent. But if you take care and follow precautionary measures, the risk is dramatically less, about 2 or 3 percent of chance to transmit HIV to your child. 
• Therapy - the doctors should determine the therapy for mother to take during pregnancy and childbirth in order to prevent the transmission of the virus to her baby. The therapy given to the baby after delivery significantly decreases the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby.
• Delivering - To decrease the risk of HIV transmission, exposure to HIV infected fluids must be kept to a minimum. A Cesarean Section (C-section) is a quicker type of delivery with less exposure to infected fluids when compared to a vaginal delivery. Also, there is better control of the fluids and the baby's exposure to those fluids than there is with a vaginal delivery. While at one time it was recommended that women always deliver by C-Section, experts now suggest that in some cases, vaginal delivery may be a safe option.
• Breastfeeding - Because HIV can be transmitted through breast milk, women who have HIV should not breast feed their babies if there are other suitable options available; specifically commercial baby formula.

It is important that all mothers have access to accurate information, support and counseling when making decisions about having a baby and measures of prevention and care.

HIV positive women who wish to become pregnant should consult a physician in order to reduce the possibility of passing the virus to her baby. In high and middle-income countries the rate of transmission of HIV from mother to a baby is reduced below 1 percent, thanks to medication and care applied during pregnancy.