Pregnancy and HIV

A diagnosis of HIV does not mean you can't have children. But you can pass HIV to your baby during the pregnancy, while in labor, while giving birth, or by breastfeeding. The good news is that there are many ways to lower the risk of passing HIV to your unborn baby to almost zero.

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What can I do before getting pregnant to lower my risk of passing HIV to my baby?

If you plan to become pregnant, talk to your doctor right away. Your doctor can talk with you about how HIV can affect your health during pregnancy and your unborn baby's health. Your doctor can work with you to prepare for a healthy pregnancy before you start trying to become pregnant.

Everyone living with HIV should take HIV medicines to stay healthy. If you are thinking about becoming pregnant and are not taking HIV treatment, it is important that you begin, because this will lower your chances of passing the virus to your baby when you become pregnant.

There are ways for you to get pregnant that will limit your partner's risk of HIV infection. You can ask your doctor about ways to get pregnant and still protect your partner.

I do not have HIV, but my partner does. Can I get pregnant without getting HIV?

Women have a higher risk of HIV infection during vaginal sex than men. If you do not have HIV but your male partner does, the risk of getting HIV while trying to get pregnant can be reduced but not totally eliminated.

Talk to your doctor about HIV medicine you can take (called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP) to help protect you and your baby from HIV.

You may also want to consider donor sperm or assisted reproductive technology, such as semen washing or in vitro fertilization, to get pregnant. These options can be expensive and may not be covered by your health insurance.

I'm pregnant. Will my baby have HIV?

If you just found out you are pregnant, see your doctor right away. Find out what you can do to take care of yourself and to give your baby a healthy start to life.

With your doctor's help, you can decide on the best treatment for you and your baby before, during, and after the pregnancy. You should also take these steps before and during your pregnancy to help you and your baby stay healthy.

Just because you have HIV doesn't mean your child will get HIV. In the United States, before effective treatment was available, about 25% of pregnant mothers with HIV passed the virus to their babies. Today, if you take HIV treatment and have an undetectable viral load, your risk of passing HIV to your baby is less than 1%.1

What can I do to lower my risk of passing HIV to my baby?

Thanks to more HIV testing and new medicines, the number of children infected with HIV during pregnancy, labor and childbirth, and breastfeeding has decreased by 90% since the mid-1990s.1

The steps below can lower the risk of giving HIV to your baby:

Tell your doctor you want to get pregnant. Your doctor can help you decide if you need to change your treatments to lower your viral load, to help you get pregnant without passing HIV to your partner, and to prevent you from passing the virus to your baby. He or she will also help you get as healthy as possible before you get pregnant to improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy and baby. Don't stop using condoms for STI prevention and another method of birth control for pregnancy prevention until your doctor says you are healthy enough to start trying.

Get prenatal care. Prenatal care is the care you receive from your doctor while you are pregnant. You need to work closely with your doctor throughout your pregnancy to monitor your treatment, your health, and your baby's health.

Start HIV treatment. You can start treatment before pregnancy to lower the risk of passing HIV to your baby. If you are already on treatment, do not stop, but do see your doctor right away. Some HIV drugs should not be used while you're pregnant. For other drugs, you may need a different dosage.

Manage side effects. Side effects from HIV medicines can be especially challenging during pregnancy, but it is still important that you take your medicine as directed by your doctor. Talk to your doctor about any side effects you have and about ways to manage them.

Do not breastfeed. You can pass the virus to your baby through your breastmilk even if you are taking medicine. The best way to avoid passing HIV to your baby is to feed your infant formula instead of breastfeeding.

Make sure your baby is tested for HIV right after birth. You should choose a doctor or clinic experienced in caring for babies exposed to HIV. They will tell you what follow-up tests your baby will need and when. Talk to your doctor about whether your baby may benefit from starting treatment right away.

Ask your pediatric HIV specialist if your baby might benefit from anti-HIV medicines before you know if your baby is HIV-positive or HIV-negative. Research has shown that giving combination HIV drugs to newborns is better at preventing HIV than taking AZT (azidothymidine, an antiretroviral medicine) alone.

Can I take HIV medicine during pregnancy?

HIV-infected pregnant women should take HIV medicines. These medicines can lower the risk of passing HIV to a baby and improve the mother's health.

If you haven't used any HIV drugs before pregnancy and are in your first trimester, your doctor will help you decide if you should start treatment. Here are some things to consider:

  • Nausea and vomiting may make it hard to take the HIV medicine early during pregnancy.
  • It is possible the medicine may affect your baby. Your doctor will prescribe medicine that is safe to use during pregnancy.
  • HIV is more commonly passed to a baby late in pregnancy or during delivery. HIV can be passed early in pregnancy if your viral load is detectable.
  • Studies show treatment works best at preventing HIV in a baby if it is started before pregnancy or as early as possible during pregnancy.

If you are taking HIV drugs and find out you're pregnant in the first trimester, talk to your doctor about sticking with your current treatment plan. Some things you can talk about with your doctor include:

  • Whether to continue or stop HIV treatment in the first trimester. Stopping HIV medicine could cause your viral load to go up. If your viral load goes up, the risk of infection also goes up. Your disease also could get worse and cause problems for your baby. So this is a serious decision to make with your doctor.
  • What effects your HIV medicines may have on the baby
  • Whether you are at risk for drug resistance. This means the HIV medicine you take no longer works against HIV. Never stop taking your HIV medicine without first talking to your doctor.

Can I get help paying for care during pregnancy?

If you are pregnant, Medicaid may pay for your prenatal care. If you are pregnant and living with HIV, Medicaid might pay for counseling, medicine to lower the risk of passing HIV to your baby, and treatment for HIV. Each state makes its own rules regarding Medicaid. Contact your local or county medical assistance, welfare, or social services office to learn more. If you are unable to find that number, search your state's department of health.

If you don't think you qualify for assistance, check again. Sometimes states change their Medicaid rules. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid eligibility expanded to cover many more people. Also, you may be newly eligible for Medicaid because of increased income limits for prenatal care and HIV treatment for pregnant women.

You may also access care through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. Find a Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program medical care provider near you. 

Did we answer your question about HIV and pregnancy?

For more information about HIV and pregnancy, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). HIV Among Pregnant Women, Infants, and Children.