Can HIV be passed to an unborn baby in pregnancy or through breastfeeding?

Yes, it’s possible for HIV to be passed from a woman to her baby:

  • during pregnancy
  • during labour and birth
  • through breastfeeding

However, if you receive treatment for HIV during pregnancy and don’t breastfeed your baby, the risk of your baby getting HIV is less than 1 in 100. Without treatment, the risk of passing HIV to your baby is around 1 in 4.

All pregnant women in the UK are offered an HIV test as part of their antenatal screening. You will be offered a blood test for four infectious diseases:

  • HIV
  • syphilis
  • hepatitis B
  • rubella

Reducing the risk of passing HIV to your baby

If you have HIV, you can reduce the risk of passing it to your baby by:

  • taking combination therapy (also called highly active antiretroviral therapy or HAART) during pregnancy, even if you don’t need HIV treatment for your own health
  • bottle feeding your baby, rather than breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed your baby if you have HIV, because the virus can be transmitted through breast milk.

Does having a caesarean reduce the risk of passing on HIV?

Advances in treatment mean that a vaginal delivery shouldn't increase the risk of a woman passing HIV to her baby if both the following apply:

  • the HIV virus can’t be detected in her blood (an undetectable viral load)
  • her HIV is well managed

In some cases, doctors may recommend that a woman has a planned caesarean section before going into labour, to reduce the risk of passing on HIV, for example:

  • if she’s not taking combination therapy
  • if the HIV virus can be detected in the blood (a detectable viral load)

Is it safe to take HIV medication in pregnancy?

Some medicines for HIV aren’t suitable to take during pregnancy. If you have HIV and become pregnant, contact your local HIV clinic. This is important because:

  • some anti-HIV medicines can harm unborn babies, so your treatment plan will need to be reviewed
  • additional medicines may be needed to prevent your baby getting HIV

However, if you’re taking HIV medication and you become pregnant, don’t stop taking your medication without first speaking to your GP. 

Always check with your GP or midwife before taking any medicine when you’re pregnant.

Will my baby need to be treated?

After your baby is born, they will be given HIV medication, usually for four weeks, to stop them developing HIV.

Your baby will be tested for HIV within 48 hours of birth. They will usually be tested again at six and 12 weeks.

Read the answers to more questions about sexual health and questions about pregnancy.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 02/11/2015

Next review due: 02/11/2017