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Mother to baby

A woman holding a photo of an ultrasound

Women with HIV can now give birth to healthy babies with little risk of them getting the virus. Testing during pregnancy and effective HIV drugs mean very few HIV positive babies are now born in the UK.

Can you be born with HIV?

Yes, if a pregnant woman doesn’t take HIV treatment her baby can be born with HIV.

The baby can get HIV while still in the womb - this is called mother-to-child transmission, MTCT or vertical transmission.

HIV transmission from mother to baby can also occur during childbirth following contact with the mother’s blood. If the baby isn’t born with HIV it can get it soon afterwards by feeding on infected breast milk.

How can you prevent HIV passing to a baby before birth?

In the UK very few babies are now born with HIV: 99.9% of babies born to mothers with HIV do not get infected, as long as the mother takes HIV drugs before giving birth.

Pregnant women are offered an HIV test during pregnancy. If they are found to have HIV they start treatment. (Everyone with HIV is now recommended to start treatment as soon as possible, based on the findings of the START study.)

Treatment should lower the amount of HIV in their body to undetectable levels, dramatically cutting the risk of the virus being passed on to their unborn baby.

These drugs also mean that during childbirth the risk of HIV infection is greatly reduced. As a precaution, a mother might be advised to give birth by a Caesarean delivery if her viral load is not undetectable.

How can you prevent a baby from getting HIV after birth?

Whatever way she gives birth, the mother will be advised to bottle-feed her new baby so that the child does not get infected though breast milk containing HIV.

For a month after being born the baby will also be given HIV medication to be extra sure it does not become infected. HIV drugs are safe and pose no risk to the baby.

Watch "HIV Advice For Pregnant Women" video:

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How HIV is not transmitted ››

‹‹ Back to: HIV infection through contaminated blood



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 24/8/2015 by T. Kelaart

Date due for the next review: 23/8/2018

Content Author: R. Scholey

Current Owner: Health promotion

More information:

HIV Transmission Risk Persists During the First 6 Months of Antiretroviral Therapy, Mujugira A1, Celum C, Coombs RW, Campbell JD, Ndase P, Ronald A, Were E, Bukusi EA, Mugo N, Kiarie J, Baeten JM; Partners PrEP Study Team
National Center for Biotechnology Information
US National Library of Medicine
2016 Aug 15;72(5):579-84. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001019

HIV treatment as prevention and HPTN 052, Cohen MS1, McCauley M, Gamble TR
National Center for Boiotechnology Information
US National Library of Medicine

Sexual Activity Without Condoms and Risk of HIV Transmission in Serodifferent Couples When the HIV-Positive Partner Is Using Suppressive Antiretroviral Therapy, by Alison J. Rodger, MD; Valentina Cambiano, PhD; Tina Bruun, RN; Pietro Vernazza, MD; Simon Collins; Jan van Lunzen, PhD; Giulio Maria Corbelli; Vicente Estrada, MD; Anna Maria Geretti, MD; Apostolos Beloukas, PhD; David Asboe, FRCP; Pompeyo Viciana, MD1; Félix Gutiérrez, MD; Bonaventura Clotet, PhD; Christian Pradier, MD; Jan Gerstoft, MD; Rainer Weber, MD; Katarina Westling, MD; Gilles Wandeler, MD; Jan M. Prins, PhD; Armin Rieger, MD; Marcel Stoeckle, MD; Tim Kümmerle, PhD; Teresa Bini, MD; Adriana Ammassari, MD; Richard Gilson, MD; Ivanka Krznaric, PhD; Matti Ristola, PhD; Robert Zangerle, MD; Pia Handberg, RN; Antonio Antela, PhD; Sris Allan, FRCP; Andrew N. Phillips, PhD; Jens Lundgren, MD JAMA. 2016;316(2):171-181. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.5148; Journal of the American Medical Association

Viral load, by Michael Carter, Greta Hughson, NAM Aidsmap, March 2014

More confidence on zero risk: still no transmissions seen from people with an undetectable viral load in PARTNER study, Gus Cairns, NAM Aidsmap, July 2016

BHIVA guidelines for the treatment of HIV-1-positive adults with antiretroviral therapy 2015, Writing Group: Duncan Churchill Chair Laura Waters Vice Chair N Ahmed, B Angus, M Boffito, M Bower, D Dunn, S Edwards, C Emerson, S Fidler, †M Fisher, R Horne, S Khoo, C Leen, N Mackie, N Marshall, F Monteiro, M Nelson, C Orkin, A Palfreeman, S Pett, A Phillips, F Post, A Pozniak, I Reeves, C Sabin, R Trevelion, J Walsh, E Wilkins, I Williams, A Winston

START trial finds that early treatment improves outcomes for people with HIV, Gus Cairns, NAM Aidsmap, May 2015

START trial provides definitive evidence of the benefits of early HIV treatment, Liz Highleyman, NAM Aidsmap; Produced in collaboration with hivandhepatitis.com, July 2015

Michael Carter, Mother-to-baby transmission, NAM, Aidsmap, 8/8/11

Guidelines for the management of HIV infection in pregnant women 2012, BHIVA, (2012)

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Guidelines for the management of HIV infection in pregnant women 2012 (open in new window), BHIVA, (May 2014)

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