HIV and Pregnancy: How HIV-Positive Mothers Can Safely Give Birth to HIV-Negative Babies
Thanks to advances in HIV research, one of the least common ways in the United States to get HIV today is through perinatal (also known as mother-to-child) transmission. Since 1990, annual perinatal transmission rates have declined by more than 90 percent — meaning less than 1 percent of women with HIV transmit the disease to their baby.
Mother-to-Child Transmission Fast Facts
- Each year, roughly 8,500 women with HIV give birth (according to the most recent data from 2006).
- From 1994-2010, nearly 22,000 cases of perinatally acquired HIV infections were prevented, thanks to early detection and medication.
- From 2002-2005, only about 38% of mothers knew their status before becoming pregnant.
- Between 2002 and 2013, nearly two-thirds of all babies born with HIV belonged to African-American mothers.
How is Perinatal Transmission Prevented?
The risk of mother-to-child transmission is lowest when:
- HIV is detected early. The CDC recommends that all women who are planning on becoming pregnant, or recently found out that they are pregnant, get tested for HIV.
- Women who are HIV-positive receive HIV medication throughout their pregnancy and childbirth.
- Women choose to have a cesarean delivery (C-section).
- Babies born to HIV-positive mothers take HIV medication for roughly a month after their birth.
- HIV-positive women do not breastfeed.
How do HIV Medications Work?
HIV medications prevent the virus from multiplying in the mother, thereby reducing the amount of HIV in her body. With less HIV in the body, the odds of a woman transmitting the disease to her child are significantly lower. And these medications don’t just protect the child, they also improve the mother’s health.
What Challenges Still Remain?
- There is still a greater need to educate women, especially those who are already HIV-positive, on the ways to protect their unborn child, should they become pregnant.
- Many women still do not have access to counseling, medication, and health clinics.
- Worldwide action. While mother-to-child transmission rates are low in the United States and Europe, it remains an epidemic in many places, especially sub-Saharan Africa.