What Is Perinatal Hiv And When Does It Occur?

Perinatal transmission of HIV can be very concerning for pregnant people who have HIV.

What Is Perinatal Hiv And When Does It Occur? [Explained]

If you are HIV positive, it is possible to transmit the virus to your child in many different ways.

While having HIV is not the same as it used to be, it does cause certain problems and it can be distressing to think that you could pass it on to your children.

Read on for more information on perinatal HIV and when it occurs. 

What Is Perinatal HIV?

Perinatal HIV refers to the transmission of HIV between a woman and her baby.

This usually occurs during the birth of your child, pregnancy, or breastfeeding. Perinatal HIV is also known as mother-to-child transmission.

Can Perinatal Transmission Of HIV Occur?

Perinatal transmission can occur with HIV through breast milk, childbirth, and pregnancy. HIV commonly transfers through breast milk, vaginal fluids, and the blood. 

Can You Prevent Perinatal Transmission? 

Mother-to-child transmission is very preventable, so it is very important to speak to your doctor about your possible options.

It is very possible for a baby to be born from a HIV-positive mother who has not contracted the virus.

Over the last 30 years, the chances of this happening have decreased by 95 percent.

These statistics are very promising as under 1 percent of new cases of HIV were actually due to perinatal transmission.

In order to prevent this transmission, you should follow these steps: 

Visit Your Doctor 

If you are pregnant and HIV positive, it is very important to visit your doctor or physician very regularly.

This is to monitor your viral load. The doctor will check that the levels of HIV in the body remain very low, and will help to make sure that you are taking your medication correctly.

Your doctor will also be able to give you advice and answer any questions that you may have in regard to your pregnancy.

Take Your Medication! 

It is so important to continue to take your HIV medication. When you become pregnant, it is advised that you take antiretroviral medication.

This medication, when taken correctly, will reduce the chances of perinatal transmission by two-thirds.

The medication makes the amount of HIV in your blood so low that it is at undetectable levels.

This step is essential in preventing transmission. 

To further safeguard your baby from the virus, your baby is expected to take the medication after they have been born.

They are expected to take these drugs every 6 hours for 6 weeks in order to reduce the chances of the baby contracting HIV.


While you may have always wanted to have a natural birth, this may not be the best option for you if you are hoping to stop perinatal transmission.

Instead, it is recommended that you give birth via a cesarean as this will help to stop transmission.

What Is Perinatal Hiv And When Does It Occur? [Explained]

This is only for those who have not been able to lower their viral load to low enough levels through the medication. 

Don’t Breastfeed

Again, you may feel like you really want to breastfeed your baby, but refraining from breastfeeding is a very effective way to prevent the transmission.

While taking the medication will reduce the chances of transmission in a big way, breastfeeding is quite a high-risk activity.

What Happens If Your Baby Tests Positive?

If your baby has tested positive for HIV, it is better to start treatment early on to prevent the HIV from worsening.

The treatment for this is antiretroviral drug therapy. Your child will be expected to take this medication for the rest of their life if they want to remain healthy.

It is very important that this medication is taken every day in order to ensure that the treatment remains effective. 

Children with HIV who take their medication properly have the same lifespan as someone who has not got HIV.

However, if the children are not treated properly at a young age, they may experience lowered immune systems which means that they are much more likely to pick up lots of different infections.

What Increases The Risk Of Perinatal HIV?


Genetics plays a huge role in the likelihood of perinatal transmission. Certain people are genetically predisposed to transmit HIV differently from others. 

Other Illnesses 

If the mother or the child is suffering from other illnesses, then HIV is also more likely to be transmitted. 

Other Risk Factors 

Lifestyle choices and behavior patterns increase the risk of perinatal HIV transmission.

For instance, if the mother is taking drugs that are not prescribed by the doctor, and is having frequent sexual intercourse with various partners throughout the pregnancy, then the risk is increased. 

The method of feeding that is chosen could increase the risk of transmitting.

If you breastfeed your child or chew the food for the baby, you are much more likely to transmit HIV!

Nutritional Status 

The mother has quite a high chance of transmitting the virus if they have: 

  • Malnutrition and immunosuppression at an advanced stage.
  • Other sexually transmitted infections. 
  • A deficiency in vitamin A and other nutrients that are essential.

These health factors could increase the risk of mother-to-child transmission.

Can I Breastfeed Safely With HIV?

It is not recommended that those who are HIV positive breastfeed their child.

While the risk of transmission, if you have a low viral load, is barely there, breastfeeding still has a chance of transmitting it, so it is a good idea to avoid breastfeeding where possible. 

There are many other alternatives to breastfeeding.

Baby formula is a great alternative and it will give your child all the nutritional value that they need while removing the risk of transmission. Donor milk is another option.

Final Thoughts

If you become pregnant and you are HIV positive, it is very important to contact your doctor immediately to get some advice on how to reduce the chances of your child contracting HIV through pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

While HIV research has come on in leaps and bounds over the past few years, and your child will not have a lower life expectancy than a child without HIV if their medication is taken correctly, it is still a good idea to prevent it in the first place, so read this article for some guidance on perinatal HIV.

Joshua Damie
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