Treatment training manual

6.11 ART and the baby’s health

Exposure to HIV treatment (ART)

The biggest risk, to a baby born to a mother with HIV, is HIV itself. ART can prevent this.

So far, all the available evidence from more than 25 years show that HIV drugs appear to be safe.

This even includes with a few reports that looked at the risk of prematurity, birth defects and toxicity in babies.


Several studies show greater risk of prematurity (baby born at less than 37 weeks) and low birth rate for babies born to mothers taking ART. This is particularly with protease inhibitors.

This should not be a reason for a mother to avoid ART in pregnancy. It is important to be aware of the risks and options though.

Birth defects

To date there is no evidence that currently recommended ART increases the risk of birth defects.


Anaemia has been seen in babies born to mothers taking ART. This passes quickly and really needs a transfusion.


If a woman takes atazanavir in pregnancy the levels of bilirubin in the baby might be higher than normal. The baby might have phototherapy treatment with light, using a special machine to reduce the levels.

Last updated: 1 January 2016.