Being pregnant while you are living with HIV can be scary and you might be worried about whether your baby is going to be born with HIV or not. The best thing you can do to ensure that your baby is safe is to ensure that you adhere to the HIV treatment (also called ARVs) and that you are virally suppressed in order to prevent what is called ‘mother-to-child transmission’.
Mother-to-child transmission of HIV is also known as vertical transmission. This is when HIV is passed from a pregnant or breastfeeding mother who is HIV positive to her baby. HIV can be passed to the baby during pregnancy, during labour (childbirth), or during breastfeeding.
How can I prevent mother-to-child transmission?
- The most important thing you can do if you are living with HIV is to take your ARVs correctly and regularly as advised by the healthcare provider (this is known as adherence to treatment). This is especially important if you are pregnant because your treatment will suppress your viral load (how much HIV is in the blood) and a suppressed viral load reduces the chances of passing on HIV to your baby.
- It is important to book for antenatal care visits (also called ANC) early as soon as you suspect you are pregnant. You also need to attend ALL 8 visits so that your healthcare provider can monitor you closely throughout your pregnancy.
- At the antenatal clinic visit, your blood will be taken to check if you are virally suppressed. Your blood will also be taken when you give birth and when your baby turns 6 months old.
- It is important that you use condoms throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding to prevent reinfections of HIV which might affect the baby.
- It is also important that you join support groups, mentor mother programmes or adherence clubs as this will connect you with other women to support you throughout your pregnancy and breastfeeding journey. Once your baby is born you may be linked to a post-natal club (PNC) by the healthcare provider.
STIs and pregnancy
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in pregnancy can be harmful to your unborn baby or may cause your baby to be born with diseases.
- A test for an STI called syphilis will also be done at your first ANC visit as well as at 34 weeks for all HIV positive and HIV negative women.
- If the test for syphilis is positive, there is effective treatment to protect you and your baby from being infected.
- Your partner should also be tested and treated for STIs, and it is advisable that you use condoms to avoid reinfections.
If you are HIV positive and pregnant, or if you are pregnant and do not know your status, you can visit your local clinic or use the Service Finder to find a clinic where you can speak to a healthcare provider.