Perinatal HIV transmission, also known as mother-to-child transmission, can happen at any time during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and breastfeeding. CDC recommends that all women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant take an HIV test as early as possible before and during every pregnancy. This is because the earlier HIV is diagnosed and treated, the more effective HIV medicine, called antiretroviral treatment (ART), will be at preventing transmission and improving the health outcomes of both mother and child.
Advances in HIV research, prevention, and treatment have made it possible for many women living with HIV to give birth without transmitting the virus to their babies. The annual number of HIV infections through perinatal transmission have declined by more than 90% since the early 1990s. Today, if a woman takes HIV medicine daily as prescribed throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery and gives HIV medicine to her baby for 4-6 weeks after delivery, the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby can be as low as 1% or less. When the HIV viral load is not adequately reduced, a Cesarean delivery can also help to prevent HIV transmission. After delivery, a mother can prevent transmitting HIV to her baby by not breastfeedinga and not pre-chewing her baby’s food.
For babies living with HIV, starting treatment early is important because the disease can progress more quickly in children than adults. Providing ART early can help children with perinatal HIV live longer, healthier lives.
It is important that all women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant encourage their partners to also get tested for HIV. Women who are HIV-negative but have an HIV-positive partner should talk to their doctor about taking HIV medicine daily, called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), to protect themselves while trying to get pregnant, and to protect themselves and their baby during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.