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Can HIV-Positive People Have Babies? 7 Myths About Pregnancy and HIV/AIDS

By Olivia Ford

January 8, 2013

Can HIV-Positive People Have Babies? 7 Myths About Pregnancy and HIV/AIDS

If you thought the answer to the question in this headline was "No," have we got news for you!

Some background: HIV treatment is more effective than ever -- and can deliver not only near-normal life spans, but also a radical drop in the likelihood of passing the virus to an intimate partner, if taken as directed. These factors and others have contributed to a veritable baby boom among people living with HIV. Doubtful? Don't let ancient medical reports and ignorance be your guides! Read on to learn more.

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HIV-positive women safely having babies? Impossible!

HIV-positive women safely having babies? Impossible!

This may be one of the saddest myths about HIV to persist to the present day. With rigorous prenatal care and treatment by knowledgeable providers, the chance that a mom living with HIV will transmit the virus to her baby is less than 2 percent. What seemed like a miracle at the dawn of the HIV epidemic is on its way to becoming a worldwide reality. Meanwhile, effective, tolerable HIV meds can make it possible for parents to watch their children grow into adulthood and beyond.

Many people who are not living with or otherwise affected by HIV may not be aware of this phenomenal news, so you can be the first to tell your friends: A woman can have a healthy pregnancy if she's HIV positive.

OK, so it works for moms, but HIV-positive men definitely can't be biological fathers.

OK, so it works for moms, but HIV-positive men definitely can't be biological fathers.

Wrong again! Knowledge and treatment of HIV have made it increasingly possible for men living with HIV to safely father biological children. Several techniques and options are available to assist HIV-negative women in having babies with HIV-positive men. Recently, the FDA even approved a prophylactic pill that, with the guidance of an HIV expert physician, may protect an HIV-negative mom-to-be while she and her positive babydaddy attempt to conceive more naturally. With sperm washing, surrogacy and reproductive technologies, gay prospective dads with HIV can join the revolution too!

Pregnant women are eating for two.

Pregnant women are eating for two.

Now that's a myth that transcends HIV status. A pregnant woman's daily calorie needs will increase with each trimester of her pregnancy -- but this does not mean that women ought to eat two full, adult-sized breakfasts, lunches and dinners every day they're pregnant! This article by HIV and nutrition specialist Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., outlines the particulars of a healthful, balanced, nutrient-rich diet at each stage in a woman's pregnancy. The guidance in this piece is geared for women living with HIV, but is applicable to most pregnant women, regardless of HIV status.

Pregnancy, like HIV, is a pre-existing condition under U.S medical insurance guidelines.

Pregnancy, like HIV, is a pre-existing condition under U.S medical insurance guidelines.

Well, that one is still true -- at least for now. In the year 2014, when a host of provisions of the U.S. Affordable Care Act will go into effect, so-called "pre-existing conditions" like HIV and being pregnant will no longer be grounds to deny or overcharge for heath coverage. There are already several preventive services covered under the Affordable Care Act that pregnant women can take advantage of right now.

Read more about benefits available to pregnant women living with HIV.

To have a child who is HIV negative, a mom living with HIV definitely has to deliver her baby via Cesarean section, right?

To have a child who is HIV negative, a mom living with HIV definitely has to deliver her baby via Cesarean section, right?

Untrue! Unless her viral load is 1,000 copies/mL or greater, or there's some other medical reason for a C-section, the recommendation for a woman living with HIV in the U.S. today is vaginal birth. Back when research into positive women having babies was new, C-section birth was considered safest because it reduced a newborn's exposure to its mother's blood and other bodily fluids. Now that advances in HIV treatment have made it possible to get levels of HIV in a woman's body down to where they can't even be detected by sensitive tests, there's no longer a need to keep a baby from making that trip through its mama's birth canal. Furthermore, these same advances in treatment may make it possible for some positive women to give birth outside a hospital setting -- if a woman, working with experienced providers, so chooses.

Those strong HIV meds <i>must</i> have negative effects on fetuses and babies.

Those strong HIV meds must have negative effects on fetuses and babies.

You'd think that HIV meds, once so toxic that they often caused debilitating side effects in fully grown adults, would do harm to tiny babies in their mothers' tummies. Not so, says the Antiretroviral Pregnancy Registry, which has been monitoring children born to women living with HIV since the mid-1990s. Though participation in the registry is voluntary and must be done through a health care provider, so far the registry's findings have turned up no significant evidence of long-term effects on kids whose moms took HIV meds. Besides, today's HIV meds are far less toxic than they once were.

This is an outrageous thing that no woman has ever done before.

This is an outrageous thing that no woman has ever done before.

Because of the lack of mainstream information and support available on having a baby while living with HIV, it may feel this way to some positive people -- and their loved ones and friends -- at the start of their journey toward positive parenthood. But at last count, back in 2000, an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 women living with HIV had given birth in the U.S. that year -- and doing so has only gotten safer since.

Luckily, we've gathered the perspectives of more than a dozen women who have had babies while living with HIV. These women from all over the U.S. have generously shared their advice and thoughts on the process, so that other people living with HIV and planning for parenthood would know that they are not alone.




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