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Fact Sheet Number 611
PREGNANCY AND HIV
HOW DO BABIES GET AIDS?
Keep delivery time short:
The risk of A pregnant woman should consider all of
The virus that causes AIDS can be transmission increases with longer delivery
transmitted from an infected mother to her
newborn child. Without treatment, about viral load (see Fact Sheet 125) under 1,000,
• Pregnant women should not to use both
20% of babies of infected mothers get HIV.
the risk is almost zero. Mothers with a high
viral load might reduce their risk if they
(Zerit, see Fact Sheet 414) in their antiviral
Mothers with higher viral loads are more
deliver their baby by cesarean (C-)section.
treatment due to a high rate of a dangerous
likely to infect their babies. However, no
viral load is low enough to be “safe”.
Do not breast-feed the baby:
Infection can occur any time during of babies will get HIV infection from infected
pregnancy, but usually happens just before
breast milk. This risk can be eliminated if
• If you have more than 250 T-cells, do not
or during delivery. The baby is more likely to
HIV-infected women do not breast-feed start using nevirapine (Viramune).
be infected if the delivery takes a long time.
babies. Baby formulas should be used. In
During delivery, the newborn is exposed to
developing countries there might not be Some doctors suggest that women interrupt
the mother’s blood. Drinking breast milk
clean water to prepare baby formulas. The
their treatment during the first 3 months of
World Health Organization believes that the
babies. Mothers who are HIV-infected risk of transmitting HIV is less than the risk
• The risk of missing doses due to nausea
should not breast-feed their babies.
of using contaminated water for baby and vomiting during early pregnancy, giving
reduce the risk of HIV infection when the
father is HIV-positive, some couples have
• The risk of birth defects, which is highest
during the first 3 months. There is almost
HOW DO WE KNOW IF A NEWBORN
no evidence of these birth defects, except
Most babies born to infected mothers test
HOW CAN WE PREVENT INFECTION
positive for HIV. Testing positive means you
combination therapy results in a higher risk
of premature or low birth weight babies.
Mothers can reduce the risk of infecting their
tests. Babies get HIV antibodies from their
If you have HIV and you are pregnant, or if
you want to become pregnant, talk with your
doctor about your options for taking care of
If babies are
infected with HIV, their own
immune systems will start to make infection or birth defects for your new child.
Use antiviral medications:
The risk of
transmitting HIV is extremely low if antiviral
positive. If they are not
medications are used. Transmission rates
mother’s antibodies will disappear and the
THE BOTTOM LINE
babies will test negative after about 6 to 12
combination antiviral therapy. The rate is
during the last six months of her pregnancy,
Another test, similar to the HIV viral load test
(See Fact Sheet 125, Viral Load Tests), can
after birth. See Fact Sheet 411 for more
be used to find out if the baby is infected
with HIV. Instead of antibodies, these tests
The risk of transmitting HIV to a newborn
can be virtually eliminated with “short
Even if the mother does not take antiviral
course” treatments taken only during labor
and delivery. But short treatments increase
methods cut transmission by almost half.
WHAT ABOUT THE MOTHER’S
the risk of resistance to the drugs used.
• AZT and 3TC (See Fact Sheet 415) HEALTH?
during labor, and for both mother and child
Recent studies show that HIV-positive treatment for both mother and child.
• One dose of nevirapine (See Fact Sheet sicker than those who are not pregnant. However, the risk of birth defects caused by 431) during labor, and one dose for the
Becoming pregnant is not dangerous to the
medications is greater during the first 3
months of pregnancy. If a mother chooses
Combining nevirapine and AZT during labor
and delivery cuts transmission to only 2%. However, “short-course” treatments to pregnancy, her HIV disease could get However, resistance to nevirapine can prevent infection of a newborn are not the
worse. Any woman with HIV who is thinking
best choice for the mother’s health. about getting pregnant should carefully
the single dose. This reduces the success
Combination therapies are the standard discuss treatment options with her doctor.
of later antiviral therapy for the mother. treatment. If a pregnant woman takes Resistance to nevirapine can also be medications only during labor and delivery,
transmitted to newborns through breast HIV might develop resistance to them. This
feeding. However, the shorter regimens are
can cause problems for the future treatment
more affordable for developing countries.
of the mother. See Fact Sheet 126 for more
Revised April 17, 2005
A Project of the New Mexico AIDS Education and Training Center. Partially funded by the National Library of Medicine
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