Skip to content

HIV & AIDS Health Center

HIV and Pregnancy

Font Size
A
A
A
By Suz Redfearn
WebMD Feature

HIV-positive women who are thinking about getting pregnant -- or already are pregnant -- have options that can help them stay healthy and protect their babies from becoming HIV-infected.

Since the mid-1990s, HIV testing and preventive measures have resulted in more than a 90% decline in the number of children in the U.S. infected with HIV in the womb. And after three decades of research, doctors now understand how to craft a detailed plan to keep babies of HIV-positive women from getting the virus.

Medications Are Key

HIV is passed from one person to another through blood, semen, genital fluids, and breast milk. Pregnancy, labor and delivery, and breastfeeding all pose a risk of passing HIV along to the baby.

Seble G. Kassaye, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University, says prevention starts with antiretroviral drugs. These medications were first approved in the 1990s, and researchers soon learned that combining three of them -- called an antiretroviral (ART) regimen -- added up to a lot of protection for a baby in the womb.

“With interventions that we now have -- which include starting women on well-tolerated antiretroviral medications as early as possible -- transmission risk can be reduced to less than 2%,” says Kassaye.

The drugs lower the amount of virus in the body, which lowers the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission. Some anti-HIV medications also pass from the pregnant mother to her baby through the placenta. This helps protect the baby from HIV.

No Missed Doses

For all of this to work, the mom must commit to taking her ART regimen, which can sometimes be a challenge during pregnancy.

“The key to keeping the virus suppressed within your body and your baby’s body is taking your medicines every day,” says Dominika Seidman, MD. She's an obstetrician-gynecologist at San Francisco General Hospital with specialty training in HIV. “If the side effects are bothering you or you can’t keep the medicines down due to morning sickness, see your doctor right away. He or she can help you find a way to stay on them.”

Today on WebMD

misconception
How much do you know?
contemplative man
What to do now.
 
research
Should you be tested?
HIV under microscope
What does it mean?
 
HIV AIDS Screening
Slideshow
man opening condom wrapper
Quiz
 
HIV AIDS Treatment
Feature
Discrimination Stigma
Feature
 
Treatment Side Effects
Feature
grilled chicken and vegetables
Article
 
obese man standing on scale
Article
cold sore
Article
 

WebMD Special Sections