Q: My state requires that all pregnant women be tested for HIV. If I test positive, will my baby have HIV?

A: Being tested for HIV is scary, but it's one of the most responsible things an expectant mom can do during pregnancy, because getting treated can significantly reduce your unborn baby's risk of contracting it. In fact, when an HIV-positive mom-to-be is properly medicated, her unborn baby's chances of contracting the virus are extremely low. (Without medication, though, the risk of transmission can be as high as 25 percent.) For this reason, it's essential that pregnant women who are HIV-positive take their medications as prescribed and don't stop for any reason, or the virus can become resistant to the drugs. Staying on meds also lowers levels of the virus in the body, which further reduces the risk of transmitting it to the baby.

The highest incidence of infection from mother to baby occurs during delivery, so if virus levels are high at that time, your baby may have to be delivered by c-section. Treating a baby with medication right away -- within 48 hours of birth -- can decrease her chances of infection significantly. But it can take anywhere from six to 18 months for the HIV virus to show up on a blood test, so even if your baby tests negatively at first, she'll likely be put on medications right away, just in case. HIV-positive moms should also plan on feeding their babies with formula, since breastfeeding can also transmit the virus from mom to baby.

Copyright 2009

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