HIV in pregnancy: Causes and prevention!

HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a deadly condition which gives rise to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). A person infected with AIDS has a weak immune system so he/she becomes vulnerable to infections/illnesses that could be life-threatening. HIV should be diagnosed and controlled in whichever way possible, especially in pregnant women who might pass on the virus to their unborn children.


The transmission of HIV from mother to child during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding is called peri-natal transmission. Mother to child transmission of HIV is one of the most common ways in which young children become infected with this virus. There are other causes which magnify the risk of transmission. These include:

  • Smoking or substance abuse
  • Malnutrition/poor diet
  • Sexually transmitted or in-uterine infections
  • During labour/childbirth/breastfeeding
  • Advanced stage of HIV in mother

Being HIV positive and pregnant does not mean that the baby will become infected too. If the mother stays as healthy as possible and adheres to the treatment plan as prescribed by the doctor, then chances of transmission are as slim as less than 2%. The first step towards protecting the baby would be to get tested – before planning a pregnancy or even after you’ve become pregnant. An HIV test is traditionally done with a blood test.

Preventing HIV transmission from mother to baby

  • Modern drugs have proved to be effective in preventing perinatal transmission
  • Special attention should be given to a diet plan that is loaded with iron and vitamins
  • Pregnancy should not be considered an excuse for excessive weight gain. This could increase the risk of transmission
  • The HIV infected women should get counseling on how to prevent sexually transmitted and other infections like malaria and tuberculosis. These infections diminish the powers of the placenta that acts as the protective shield between the infected mother and the baby.
  • Healthcare practitioners would avoid performing any invasive procedures on the mother as this would increase the chances of transmission rather than prevent it
  • Cesarean sections performed before labor have also shown to reduce the chances of transmission
  • Medication during labour is also effective, especially if the mother was not on any treatment plan until the pregnancy

What happens after delivery?

The medication continues even after delivery – for the mother as well as the baby. For the baby, medication is required for the first six weeks of their life. The transmission risks also increase during breastfeeding, so the HIV infected mother is counseled on alternate methods of feeding like formula, or if she does choose to breastfeed with the virus, the risks involving the same are informed to her. However, studies have proved that certain bioactive components found in mother’s milk can lead to a reduced risk of HIV transmission!

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