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Reducing the Transmission of HIV to Infants

January 1, 1981

There are several possible decisions a woman can make to try to reduce the chances of passing HIV to her baby. Some of these decisions can have a big effect on the chances that an infant born to a woman infected with HIV will also be infected.

One of the most important decisions a pregnant woman with HIV will make is a decision on whether to take medicine for her infection during pregnancy. There are reasons both in favor and against receiving HIV treatment during pregnancy. It is important for a woman trying to make such a decision to talk to her health care provider about possible treatment options and the benefits and risks of each. After learning about options, she will need to make a decision with which she feels comfortable.

At this time, one treatment to help reduce transmission of HIV from the mother to her baby is the drug AZT (also called Zidovudine). Some women may already be receiving treatment for their HIV infection with any of a variety of drugs when they find out they are pregnant. It is important for these women to discuss with their health care provider the risks and benefits of continuing or stopping medications which may not be approved for pregnant women or infants.

Treating HIV

If you are pregnant and have HIV or AIDS, you may pass the virus to your baby in three ways:

  1. During pregnancy

  2. During delivery

  3. After delivery through breast feeding

The chances are about one in four that HIV will pass from a mother to her baby before or during birth. This is only an average. No one can tell you for sure what your baby's chances are.

If you have HIV and are pregnant, the most important thing you can do is to see your health care provider early and often during your pregnancy. There are several options available for reducing the transmission of HIV to your baby -- talk with your doctor about what treatment is most appropriate. You may also want to discuss with your doctor the option of having a caesarean birth.

HIV Treatment

The following is a current treatment option that you may want to discuss with your health care provider:

    AZT Therapy
    AZT is a medicine used to treat HIV infection. With AZT, the chance that your baby will get HIV is lowered from about 3 out of 12 (25 percent) to 1 out of 12 (8 percent).

Other Ways to Protect Your Baby

In addition to the treatment option mentioned above, there are other ways to protect your baby that you may want to discuss with your doctor. These include:

  • Caesarean section birth

  • Not breast feeding (HIV can pass to your baby through breast milk)

  • Keeping yourself as healthy as possible through:

    • good nutrition (healthy foods and prenatal vitamin supplements as prescribed by your health care provider)

    • regular moderate exercise

    • adequate rest

    • early and regular prenatal care for your whole pregnancy

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This article was provided by U.S. Health Care Financing Administration. It is a part of the publication Pregnancy and HIV -- What Women and Doctors Need to Know.