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Mother/Child Tranferance of HIV VIRUS?

Sep 3, 1996

During Pregnancy, when can a woman with HIV/AIDS transfer the virus to her child. Is it before during or after birth?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

A mother can transmit the HIV virus to her baby 3 ways:

During pregnancy itself while the baby is still in the mother. This is called "transplacental transmission".

During labor/delivery, when the baby is exposed directly to the mothers blood. This is the most likely time that HIV is transmitted from mother to child.

During breastfeeding. Breastmilk contains high enough concentrations of HIV that transmission could occur from breastfeeding.

Transmission of HIV is more likely to occur if the mother's "viral load" (the amount of the virus in the blood) is high. There are now tests available that can measure the amount of the virus in the blood. When the mothers viral load is low, transmission from mother to child is less likely to occur (but still possible).

Without any medical intervention, the chances of a mother passing the virus to her child is about 25%. With early medical intervention, we can now reduce the chances of the baby becoming infected. If we treat a mother with antiviral drugs during pregnancy, and treat the baby with antiviral drugs immediately after it is born, we can reduce the chances that the baby will become infected, to about 8%. Because of our ability to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV, pre-natal testing for HIV is now more important than ever.

In "westernized" countries where there are alternatives to breastfeeding, we're now recommending HIV positive mothers to feed their babies with formula, rather than breastfeeding (which can transmit the virus).

In developing nations where formulas are not always available, breastfeeding is still encouraged, since the benefits of breastfeeding (providing the baby temporary immunity against diseases, and nutrition to the baby), outweigh the risks of transmission of HIV.

If you have further questions, please e-mail me at "" or call me at 1-800-842-AIDS.

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