HIV, AIDS, and Pregnancy

What are HIV and AIDS?

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, which is a life-threatening but preventable disease. Over time, HIV weakens your ability to fight off serious infections and some cancers. When this happens, HIV infection becomes AIDS.

If you are pregnant and you are infected with HIV, your baby may be infected with the virus before or during birth. Babies infected with HIV may get very sick and die.

Make sure that you tell all of your healthcare providers that you are HIV positive. Healthcare providers use special precautions when they handle blood or other body fluids to prevent the spread of infections, including HIV.

What is the cause?

You can get infected with HIV through:

  • Unsafe sex
  • Use of illegal drugs, either by IV or sharing nasal cocaine equipment with other people.
  • Transfusion of blood or blood products in countries where the blood is not carefully tested

If you are infected with HIV, you can pass the virus to your unborn baby through:

  • The placenta, which is tissue inside the uterus attached to the baby by the umbilical cord. It carries oxygen and food from your blood to the baby’s blood and can pass the HIV virus as well.
  • Exposure of the baby to the mother’s blood and body fluids during labor and at delivery

After delivery, HIV can be passed to a baby through the breast milk.

What are the symptoms?

Most women who are infected with HIV have no symptoms. Some women do have one or more of the following signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Swollen glands
  • Sore throat
  • Sores on the skin or mouth
  • Repeated, severe infections in the mouth or vagina despite treatment for the infections
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Blurry vision or other problems with vision

How is HIV infection diagnosed?

Tests for HIV are done in 2 steps.

  1. The first step is a screening test of your blood or saliva. If this test is negative, it usually means that you don’t have HIV. However, it’s possible to have a negative test if you have just recently been infected with the virus. If you have a negative test result but you are at high risk for infection, you may need to have this test again in 3 to 6 months.
  2. If the screening test is positive, it means that you are probably infected with HIV. A second, more specific blood test is then done to confirm the results.

All women should be tested for HIV before they get pregnant and at their first prenatal visit. If you are infected with HIV, treatment during the pregnancy can help keep your baby from getting infected. The chances that HIV will spread to the baby are lower when the infection is diagnosed and treated early in pregnancy.

How is it treated?

If you are pregnant and have HIV, your healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral medicine that slows the growth of the virus. It’s not likely that you or your baby will have bad side effects from the treatment and it may help prevent spread of the virus to the baby. Having a C-section instead of a vaginal delivery when it is time for your baby to be born can also lower the risk that your baby will get infected during birth.

Your treatment may include treatment or prevention of other infections and tumors.

Usually your baby will be treated with an antiviral medicine right away after birth and for at least the first 6 weeks of life to help prevent infection. Your baby will be tested for HIV after birth and again several months later. You should not breast-feed your baby. Give formula instead of breast milk to help prevent spread of the virus to the baby.

How can I take care of myself?

If you have been exposed to HIV, there are medicines that may be used to prevent the infection. The treatment must be started as soon as possible and no more than 72 hours after your exposure. This preventive treatment is not recommended if you are often at risk of exposure to HIV—for example, if you have sex with an HIV-positive partner.

If you are infected with HIV, getting treatment greatly lowers the risk that your baby will be born with HIV. Follow safe sex practices, including the use of latex or polyurethane condoms, to prevent the spread of the infection to others.

  • Discuss your treatment with your healthcare provider.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Know what to do if you miss a dose.
  • See your provider on a regular schedule to keep up to date on new treatments.
  • Ask your healthcare provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • How long it will take to recover
    • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent HIV infection during pregnancy?

If you do not have HIV or AIDS, the best way to prevent infection with HIV is to practice safe sex and not use illegal drugs:

  • Use latex or polyurethane condoms during foreplay and every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
  • Don’t use a spermicide containing nonoxynol 9 and don’t use condoms coated with this spermicide. This chemical can irritate the lining of the vagina and rectum and make it easier for the virus to enter your body.
  • If you use a lubricant, use one that is water based. Don’t use oil-based lubricants made with petroleum jelly, mineral oil, vegetable oil, or cold cream. They can damage condoms.
  • Have just 1 sexual partner who is not having sex with anyone else.
  • If you have had sex and are worried that you may have been infected, see your healthcare provider even if you don’t have any symptoms.

In addition:

  • Ask any new sexual partner about his or her sexual history, drug use, and tattoos or body piercings.
  • If you have not been tested for HIV, get tested and ask sexual partners to be tested for HIV.
  • Do not share needles for drug use, tattooing, or body piercing.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-08-01
Last reviewed: 2014-12-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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