Pregnancy: Mother to Baby

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Some women know that they are living with HIV before they become pregnant. Others are diagnosed through the routine antenatal-screening program.

It is not possible to completely prevent the risk of mother to baby transmission but it can be prevented in most cases. The possibility of mother to baby HIV transmission can be reduced to just 2% with the correct medical treatment.


The ways to reduce the risk of mother to baby transmission are:

  • Taking anti HIV medicine during pregnancy and delivery
  • In some instances a caesarean section is recommended rather than a standard delivery
  • Giving your baby anti HIV medicines for 4 weeks after birth
  • Avoiding breastfeeding completely


The goal of the anti HIV medicine is to reduce the amount of HIV (virus levels) in the mother’s blood to the lowest possible level. This in turn reduces the risk of the baby contracting HIV.

If the anti HIV medicines work and the level of HIV in the mother’s blood falls to a low level, there is every chance that a caesarean section will not be necessary and a standard delivery is possible.

If the level of HIV in the mother’s blood remains high, despite treatment, a planned cesarean section will be recommended. This is a further safeguard against mother to baby transmission of HIV.

If the mother is diagnosed with HIV later on in the pregnancy there is may be insuffucient time for the anti HIV medicine to work. In these cases a caesarean section will most certainly be required.

The baby will be given anti HIV medicine for the first four weeks after birth. If the mother’s viral load (amount of the virus in your blood) remains high up to the time of delivery, the baby may receive more than one medicine.

As HIV is present in breast milk, breastfeeding increases the risk of mother to baby transmission. It is strongly recommended that all babies born in Ireland to women who are living with HIV are bottle-fed with formula milk.