HIV and AIDS During Pregnancy

Answers to your biggest questions about how HIV and AIDS affect mom and baby during pregnancy.
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By Jennifer L.W. Fink, Registered Nurse
Updated March 2, 2017
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What are HIV and AIDS during pregnancy?

HIV — human immunodeficiency virus — is the virus that causes AIDS — acquired immune deficiency syndrome. AIDS depletes the body’s immune system, making it tougher to fight off disease and infection. In the past, HIV infection was commonly considered a death sentence. Today, AIDS is considered a chronic, life-threatening illness.

What are the signs of HIV and AIDS?

The symptoms of HIV infection — diarrhea, fatigue, fever, headache, rashes, sore throat, swollen glands — are so subtle that many people miss them. AIDS symptoms include soaking night sweats, fever (for several weeks), persistent diarrhea,  cough and shortness of breath, unexplained fatigue, blurred vision, white spots in the mouth, skin rashes and weight loss.

Are there any tests for HIV and AIDS?

Yes. A simple blood test can detect HIV.

How common are HIV and AIDS?

“Women are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the population with HIV infection,” says James O’Brien, MD, ob-gyn, medical director of inpatient obstetrics at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island. Each year in the US, about 6,000 to 7,000 women with HIV give birth.

How did I get HIV/AIDS?

Unprotected sex with a partner who has HIV is the most common route of infection for women. HIV/AIDS can also be spread via blood. Some women become infected after sharing needles to inject drugs.

How will my HIV/AIDS affect my baby?

In most cases, HIV isn’t passed to the baby in utero (though it can happen). That’s because the  placenta provides a barrier between the mom’s blood and the baby’s blood. There’s a chance that your baby could become infected at birth, but doctors have gotten really good at decreasing that possibility. With treatment, doctors can decrease the chance of your baby getting HIV/AIDS to about 1 percent.

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“The risk of transmission to the fetus has decreased dramatically over the past 20 years with newer three-drug regimens,” Dr. O’Brien says.

Your doctor will help you determine which antiviral drugs are best to take during pregnancy. He will also probably recommend a C-section, which will decrease the chances of your baby’s contracting HIV at birth. A vaginal birth might be possible if your HIV levels are very low, but any invasive procedures during birth, such as placement of a fetal scalp monitor on your baby’s head, should be avoided (see next page for more on treatments).

What’s the best way to treat my HIV/AIDS during pregnancy?

Antiviral medications can block the virus and help you stay healthy.

What can I do to prevent HIV/AIDS?

Practice safe sex. You should also use care when handling needles. Never share needles with a drug user.

What do other pregnant moms do when they have HIV/AIDS?

“Just looking for people experiencing the same type of things I go through on a daily basis. I am hoping, wishing and praying for a healthy delivery, child and recovery.”

Are there any other resources for HIV and AIDS during pregnancy?

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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