Mothers can spread HIV to their babies:
- During pregnancy
- While giving birth (during delivery)
- Through breast-feeding
Many women with HIV worry that they will not be able to have children without spreading HIV to their children. If you are a mother with HIV, there is always a chance that you can pass it on to your baby. Taking HIV medicines and sticking to your HIV treatment regimen can greatly reduce the chance of mother-to-child spread of HIV but cannot completely prevent it.
When a woman living with HIV sticks to her HIV regimen during her pregnancy, there is more than a 98% chance that the baby will be born HIV free. Mothers who are not on HIV treatment have about a 1 in 4 chance of passing HIV on to their babies.
The risk of spreading HIV to a newborn drops to below 2% when a women sticks to her HIV medication regimen. But the risk of mother-to-child spread of HIV is much higher if the mother has advanced HIV disease, a high viral load, or a lower-than-normal CD4 count.
Other things that may increase the risk of spreading HIV to a newborn include:
- Drug use, such as heroin or crack/cocaine
- Severe inflammation of fetal membranes
- A prolonged time between membrane rupture (water breaking) and delivery of the baby
The chance of passing HIV on to your baby may be less if you have a cesarean delivery (a C-section).
If you have HIV, bottle-feed your baby
HIV can be passed on to a baby through breast milk. Because of this, it is better to bottle-feed your baby if you are infected with HIV. Even with an undetectable viral load, it is always better to bottle-feed your baby to avoid passing HIV on to the baby through breast milk.
Find out if your baby has HIV
By taking HIV medicines and sticking to your HIV treatment regimen, it is possible for you to have a healthy baby.
When the body fights infections, it creates antibodies. The antibodies that a mother makes while she is pregnant are passed on to her baby. If a woman has HIV, the antibodies to HIV are passed on to her baby. Because of this, all babies born to women who have HIV will at first have a positive HIV antibody test.
Babies begin to make their own antibodies between 6 and 18 months of age. Until then, they keep their mother’s antibodies. If not infected with HIV, a baby will start to test negative for HIV sometime between 6 and 18 months, as the mother's antibodies are lost. If infected with HIV, a baby will start to make his or her own antibodies to HIV when the mother’s antibodies are lost. The baby will test positive and continue to test positive for HIV.
Another blood test, called the viral load test, which is also known as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, directly measures the presence of HIV in the blood. This test can also be used to check babies for HIV infection. The test may be able to tell if your baby is infected during the first 6 months of life.