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It is possible, though very rare in the United States, for a mother to transmit HIV to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. But luckily, there are ways pregnant women with HIV can protect their babies from the virus. As long as they take a few important precautions, they can greatly lower their child’s risk of getting this disease.
The first step pregnant women need to take is going on HIV medicines called antiretroviral therapy (ART) to lower their viral load. A viral load is the amount of HIV present at any given moment in the body. Taking ART during pregnancy can reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to a baby to less than 1%. To further reduce the risk of HIV transmission during birth, the mother’s OB/GYN may recommend having a C-section, which reduces the baby’s contact with the mother’s fluids.
Once the baby is born, mothers may need to avoid breastfeeding the child, as it’s possible for HIV to be transmitted in breast milk. The risk of mother-to-child transmission via breastfeeding is only a concern if the child is immunosuppressed. Many mothers with HIV are supported by medical providers in breastfeeding their child.
Additionally, all babies born to mothers with HIV will go on HIV medicines for four to six weeks after their birth. That way, if they were exposed to HIV at all, this reduces the chance of the infection taking hold and may be able to stave off the disease entirely.