HIV and Pregnancy

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HIV and Pregnancy

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The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend that all pregnant women be screened for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.1, 2 This is because early detection and treatment are the key to preventing newborn HIV infection.2

Although your health professional may not offer an HIV test as part of your routine prenatal care, it's a good idea to have one. If you have any risk factors for HIV infection, your health professional may want to give you a second test later in your pregnancy.

If you or your partner has ever had unprotected sex (or shared needles) with a person whose HIV status is unknown, there is a chance that you have the virus. If you do have HIV, your baby could also become infected. The virus is usually passed on during labour and childbirth, although it sometimes is passed during pregnancy. Breast-feeding can pass the virus from mother to baby.

Treatment with medicines called antiretrovirals, both during pregnancy and after the birth, greatly reduces a baby's risk of HIV infection. Antiretroviral medications prevent the virus from multiplying. When the amount of HIV in the blood is minimized, the immune system has a chance to recover and grow stronger.

Current treatment recommendations include:

  • Antiretroviral treatment for the mother, during the second and third trimesters and during childbirth. Zidovudine (ZDV), sometimes in combination with other antiretrovirals, is the treatment of choice during pregnancy.
  • Planned caesarean delivery for women with a high level of HIV antibodies (viral load) and therefore a higher risk of infecting their babies.
  • Antiretroviral treatment for the baby for 6 weeks after birth. ZDV is the treatment of choice.
  • No breast-feeding.

For more information, see the topic Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).



  1. Canadian Paediatric Society (2008). Position statement from the Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee: Testing for HIV infection in pregnancy. Paediatrics and Child Health, 13(3): 221–224.
  2. Keenan-Lindsay L, Yudin M (2006). HIV screening in pregnancy. SOGC Clinical Practice Guideline No. 185. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 28(12): 1103–1107.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised January 27, 2011

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