HIV and pregnancy 

Sarah has HIV. She describes her pregnancy and the steps she had to take to ensure she'd have a healthy baby. An expert explains what HIV is and how to avoid passing it on to your unborn child.

Learn about infections in pregnancy

Transcript of HIV and pregnancy

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

Jo Rowan, Senior Health Trainer, Terrence Higgins Trust

Basically, HIV is an illness. It attacks your immune system.

The main ways of catching HIV

are through unprotected sex with somebody who has HIV.

Other ways that the virus can be passed on

are from a woman to her child during childbirth,

or things like sharing injecting drug use equipment.

Over the years I always thought I would never be able to have a baby.

Sarah. Contracted HIV through unprotected sex at 17

Couldn't even look at babies. It was horrible.

Then, as time went on, it was sort of 15% chance

and then seven per cent chance that the baby would contract it mother-to-baby.

Then it went down to one per cent.

Many women assume that if they are pregnant

and they find out they're HIV-positive,

that they'll pass on HIV to their baby.

But that's not the case these days.

With good treatment, they can not pass on HIV to their baby.

As unprotected sex was not an option,

Sarah conceived through artificial insemination

with the help of a clinic especially for people with HIV.

As soon as we were married we started trying. And...

It took just over a year to actually conceive.

I suppose because it's slightly clinical or technical

in the way that it has to be done,

it may be a bit harder to conceive.

But all worth it in the end.

There are three main ways in which pregnant women can avoid

passing on HIV to their babies.

The first is that they can take HIV treatment themselves.

The second is that, in some cases, they may be offered a Caesarean section

rather than a vaginal delivery,

which can help reduce the chance of passing on HIV.

The third thing is to avoid breast-feeding.

It took me probably the first month to accept that I couldn't breast-feed

and to actually... for her to stop seeking as well.

That was really hard, really difficult.

I had to be on the right medication.

There's lots of different combination therapy,

but you have to be on a specific one that stops the baby from...

the virus crossing over the placenta, so the baby contracts it.

You have to be on the right medication to stop that.

I also knew about the delivery side of things.

They say that they do a Caesarean because there was less chance

of the baby getting the virus through birth that way.

But with the viral load being undetectable,

there is a chance of giving vaginal delivery as well,

so I just followed all the guidelines

because all I wanted was my baby to be born safely and well.

You'll be referred to a specialist HIV doctor

who will help not only in terms of your own health

and what you need in terms of treatment and good health,

but will also help prevent your baby getting HIV.

Had all the scans in the middle of the normal ones that you might have,

just to check that the baby was developing normally

and everything was going well, because of the medication.

I just did what I could to be safe.

When I gave birth,

they also have to be put on HIV medication

as a preventative measure for the first month.

Once you've given birth, then your baby will be tested for HIV.

You should know within a few days whether the baby has HIV or not

and you'll be given a series of follow-up tests

just to check that the baby is doing well and is healthy.

The first one was definitely very nerve-wracking and...

I get emotional.

I think we actually cracked open a bottle of champagne and said,

"That's it, brilliant,"

because it was really good to find out that she didn't have it.

I would just want to reassure women, no matter where they come from

or what type of strain of HIV they have,

we have very good medications in the UK

and we can treat all pregnant women who have HIV.

Have the tests done because if you were positive,

if you can get on the medication straight away,

it definitely decreases the risk

and hopefully prevent mother-to-baby transmission.

But also I would say to anybody

that is thinking or thinks that maybe they can't ever have a life

and have a baby and have a normal life, the proof is in the pudding.

I'm here, I'm with my husband.

I've been positive 17 years. I met my husband five years ago.

I've got a lovely home, a lovely husband and a lovely baby.

So it's just proof it can be done and it can be done safely.

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