Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2001;63(1):121-122

Why should I be tested for HIV if I am pregnant?

HIV disease is a serious infection with no cure. Keeping your baby from getting infected can help your baby live a normal life. That is why it is important to know if you have HIV. If you have HIV, it will change the way your doctor cares for you while you are pregnant. Your doctor will try to reduce the risk of problems for you and your baby.

How do babies get HIV?

Most babies get HIV from their mothers before they are born, during labor or after they are born.

What can I do to keep my baby from getting HIV?

There are several things you can do to help keep your baby from getting HIV:

  • Take medicines called antiretrovirals.

  • Have a cesarean section to deliver your baby.

  • Work with your doctor to keep your baby from being born early.

  • Keep yourself from getting other infections.

  • Do not breast-feed your baby.

What antiretroviral medicines should I be taking?

Usually three to four antiretroviral medicines are used including one called zidovudine. There is a chance that these medicines might cause birth defects. The risk of birth defects must be weighed against the risk of your baby getting HIV infection.

Should I have an elective cesarean section?

Having a cesarean section before you would naturally go into labor might decrease the risk of your baby getting HIV. A cesarean section is surgery so it does have some risks. Depending on your HIV viral load, a cesarean section may not be helpful for your baby.

What should I do to prevent other infections?

If your CD4 cell count is low, your doctor may want you to take medicines to prevent other infections. These infections can cause serious risks for you and your baby.

What happens after my baby is born?

Your doctor will prescribe zidovudine for your baby from birth until it is six weeks old to help prevent HIV infection. Your baby will then have to take a drug called trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (called TMP-SMZ for short) until it's about four months old. Your baby's blood will be tested from time to time to see if your baby has HIV.

What will the results from the blood test mean?

If one blood test is positive for HIV, your doctor will test your baby's blood again before deciding for sure if your baby has HIV. If all tests for HIV are negative from birth until your baby is four months old, there is a 95 percent chance your baby does not have HIV. Your baby must have tests that are negative until it is 18 months old before it can be considered for sure not to have HIV.

Where can I find more information?

It is important for you to talk with your doctor about your treatment. You can also get information from the resources listed below.

  • CDC National STD and AIDS Hotline

    Telephone: 1-800-342-2437

  • HIV/AIDS Treatment Information Service

    Telephone: 1-800-HIV-0440

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