Quick Facts



Why is HIV testing so important for pregnant women?

A woman can pass HIV to her baby during pregnancy, during labor, or through breastfeeding.

If a pregnant woman’s infection is found before she gives birth, doctors can treat her with drugs that fight HIV. These drugs can greatly reduce the risk of her baby being infected with HIV.

Women with HIV who start treatment early and maintain it throughout their pregnancy very rarely pass HIV to their babies.

What are the benefits of HIV testing for pregnant women?

A mother that knows early in her pregnancy that she is HIV positive has more time to make important decisions. She and her healthcare provider will have more time to decide on effective ways to protect her health and prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted (i.e. passed) from one person to another through body fluids - blood, semen, genital fluids, and breast milk.

Mother-to-child transmission occurs when a women infected with HIV transmits HIV to her baby during pregnancy, labor/delivery, or by breastfeeding.

When are anti-HIV medications used?

During pregnancy women receive a regimen (combination) of at least three different medications.

During labor and delivery women receive intravenous AZT (Zidovudine) and continue to take the medications in their regimens by mouth.

After birth, the babies born will receive liquid AZT for 6 weeks. (Babies of mothers who did not receive anti-HIV medications during pregnancy may be given other anti-HIV medications in addition to AZT

Remember: You may already be on an anti-HIV regimen but some of these medications may not be safe to use and your regimen may change.

How do anti-HIV medications help prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV?

They reduce the amount of HIV in an infected mother’s body which reduces risk that they will be passed to the unborn child.

Some anti-HIV medications also pass from mother to her unborn child through the placenta, which helps protect the child from infection. This is especially important during delivery when the baby may be exposed to HIV in the mother’s bodily fluids.

I am currently taking anti-HIV medications and just learned I’m pregnant.

Continue taking your anti-HIV medications until you speak with your healthcare provider. Stopping treatment suddenly could harm you and your baby.

If you are in your first trimester tell your healthcare provider right away if you are taking Sustiva (or Atripla). Sustiva alone or in Atripla may cause birth defects that develop during the first few months of pregnancy. Your healthcare provider may change to alternatives. After the first trimester, Sustiva or Atripla can be used safely.

Talk to your healthcare provider about the anti-HIV medications in your regimen. Pregnancy can affect how your body absorbs medications and your dosages may require adjustment.

If you used to take anti-HIV medications but do not anymore you should still talk to your healthcare provider about the medications you used to take, your results of any past drug-resistance testing, and why you are no longer taking the medications. This information will help your healthcare provider to select a new regimen that is safe for you and your baby.

Will I have a vaginal or a cesarean (C-Section) delivery?

Some HIV-infected mothers schedule a C-Section at 38 weeks (2 weeks before your due date) can reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission.

A scheduled C-Section is recommended for women who have not received an anti-HIV medication regimen and for women who have a viral load greater than 1,000 copies/mL or an unknown viral load near time of delivery.

What if my water breaks before my scheduled C-Section?

If this happens a C-Section may not reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

If there is not another pregnancy-related reason to have a C-Section then the risks of a C-Section may be greater than the benefits at that time.

Depending on the individual woman’s condition, a vaginal delivery may be the best alternative to a planned C-Section.

How will my baby be tested for HIV infection?

Your baby will see Pediatric Infectious Disease specialists at St. Louis Children’s Hospital for approximately 6 months after birth. If the baby’s testing is negative after 4 months, then your baby has not been infected with HIV. Your baby will also see a pediatrician or regular baby care. The HIV testing schedule is as follows:

Testing schedule:

Within 48 hours of birth

At 2 to 3 weeks of age

At 4 to 6 weeks of age

At 4 to 6 months of age