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Pregnancy and Women with HIV

January 2013
By: Sarah Bentley
When a woman becomes pregnant, it can be one of the happiest as well as one of the scariest moments of her life. A woman with a positive HIV status will have added stress and anxiety pertaining to the pregnancy. However, there is a plethora of information for the woman to learn that can be helpful in creating a favorable outcome for her and her baby.


Transmission of HIV from the mother to the baby is among the main concerns. The risk of transmitting HIV to the baby is extremely low if antiretroviral medications are used properly in pregnancy and labor, and if the mother does not breastfeed. Transmission rates are only 1 percent to 2 percent if the mother takes combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) and has a viral load less than 1,000 copies/mL. In order for the mother to remain healthy and to reduce the risk of HIV transmission to the baby, the mother needs to work with a doctor to find appropriate antiretroviral medications.

Antiretroviral medications are used during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and after birth to lessen the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. During pregnancy, women infected with HIV receive a regimen of at least three different antiretroviral medications. During labor and delivery, women infected with HIV receive intravenous (IV) AZT and continue to take the medications in their regime by mouth. Depending on the individual, the baby can be born through a Caesarian section or vaginal birth. After birth, babies born to women infected with HIV receive liquid AZT for 6 weeks. It is advised that mothers do not breastfeed as the risk of transmission is high. Alternatives such as formula are a better choice.

With the risk of transmission being low when the mother manages her health properly, the outcome of a pregnancy involving a mother with HIV can be successful. The mother will need outside support and encouragement in maintaining proper medications as well as physical and mental health.

Sarah Bentley, M.A., NCC, Clinical Therapist


The Body. (2012). Pregnancy and HIV.
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