6. 3 HIV and pregnancy overview
Can HIV positive women safely have children?
Yes. With HIV treatment (ART), HIV positive women can safely have children. ART makes sure there is very little risk of transmitting HIV to the baby.
Many thousands of women have taken ART during pregnancy without complications to their babies.
This has resulted in tens of thousands of HIV negative babies.
How is HIV transmitted from mother to a baby?
The exact way that mothers pass HIV onto babies is still unknown. Without ART, about 1 in 4 babies born to HIV positive women would become HIV positive.
The majority of transmissions occur near the time of or during labour and delivery. Transmission can also occur through breastfeeding.
Certain factors seem to make transmission during labour much more likely.
Viral load is the strongest risk factor
If a woman has a high viral load the risk of transmission to her baby is much greater than if it is very low .The aim of ART is to make sure that her viral load is as low as possible, particularly at the time of delivery.
This will also give the most benefit to the mother herself.
Other risk factors
Other risk factors are having a low CD4 count or other infections.
The mother’s health directly relates to the HIV status of the baby
Whether or not the baby’s father is HIV positive does not affect whether the baby is born HIV positive
Do HIV drugs protect the baby?
Yes. Using a combination of three or more HIV drugs leads to a transmission rate of less than 1%.
Reducing the risk of a baby becoming HIV positive was an early benefit of HIV drugs.
Thousands of women have taken these drugs all over the world without complications.
Treatment guidelines recommend ART for all HIV positive people – including all pregnant women – even if they are well with a high CD4 count.
Treat as non-pregnant adult
This is a very commonly used phrase. This means that generally your HIV is treated as if you are not pregnant.
Treatment guidelines recommend ART for all HIV positive people, even if they are well with a high CD4 count.
Last updated: 1 January 2016.