HIV in Pregnant Women


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Getting pregnant while suffering from HIV introduces extra complexities to the pregnancy itself, birth and child rearing. This article gives details on what can be done to protect the baby from the infection. It may be useful for those who are HIV positive and pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant and for those with an interest in HIV and pregnancy.

How HIV transfers from mother to child

There is approximately a one in four chance of an HIV positive mother transferring the disease to her child if preventative measures are not used. The virus has multiple opportunities to infect the baby at various stages of its development.

Due to the close contact of maternal and placental blood at the placental blood barrier infection may occur during pregnancy at this point. It is however thought that very few infections happen at this stage with the majority happening during or after birth.

During normal birth the baby makes contact with vaginal fluids which have the ability to cause infection. If a caesarian section is being performed the baby is at a reduced risk of infection when compared to vaginal birth but may be exposed to the mothers blood, another potential route of infection.

HIV is also present in dangerous levels within the breast milk of an HIV positive mother. This leads to the possibility of transfer during postnatal breastfeeding. Alternatives to breast milk such as formula may be used to feed you baby. 

Getting pregnant with an HIV positive partner

If you are trying to get pregnant with a partner who is HIV positive there are various medical considerations that should be taken into account. If the man is infected but the woman is not, then he can have his sperm washed to prevent infection of either the mother or child. If the woman is HIV positive artificial insemination can be used to prevent the man from becoming infected. It is important to realise that this method of conception may not prevent the baby from catching the disease.

Preventing a baby catching HIV during pregnancy

An HIV test is part of a standard battery of tests offered in the UK to pregnant women. This is done to identify a mother as HIV positive early in her pregnancy. This reduces the risk of the baby being infected if treatment is also started early.

The medication regimen used during a pregnancy is usually determined on a case by case basis. If a mother to be is on HAART medication before the pregnancy this is usually continued. If not then HAART treatment usually begins at around 20 to 28 weeks.

Preventing HIV transfer after birth

Antiretroviral drugs are used during both labour and birth to reduce the number of virus particles present in the bodily fluids of the mother. After birth breast milk is usually substituted for formula or other replacements to breast milk.


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