How to prevent Mother-to-Child transmission of HIV

Living with HIV as a pregnant woman can be a stressful time for you because of the fear of possibly infecting your child due to the high risk. But it is possible to prevent your baby being infected, using what’s called Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT).

The PMTCT programme helps HIV positive women maintain their health and prevent their unborn child from being infected during birth. Part of the programme is being expected to:  

  • Receive antenatal services and HIV testing during your pregnancy
  • Have access to antiretroviral treatment (ART)
  • Practise safe childbirth practices and appropriate infant feeding
  • Make use of infant HIV testing and other post-natal healthcare services.

Here is more about preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV: 

During pregnancy 

If doctors are aware that you are HIV-positive early on in your pregnancy, you’re able to get on treatment early and therefore reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby. So if you know you are HIV positive during your pregnancy, tell your doctor as soon as possible. If you’re not sure about your HIV status, get tested as soon as you can and let your doctor know so that you can start the programme to prevent HIV from passing to your baby. 

During birth or labour

There is a combination of HIV medication called Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) that a pregnant woman living with HIV will receive during pregnancy, childbirth and sometimes for a certain period after giving birth. 

During this journey, your doctor might also ask you to consider giving birth via a planned caesarean section (c-section) rather than vaginal delivery (also known as “natural birth”) in order to reduce the risk of transmission. 

After giving birth 

Living with HIV and being pregnant will require you to make some important decisions for your unborn baby, and breastfeeding is one of them. It is always recommended that a new mom breastfeeds her baby (you know the saying, “breast is best”). Your doctor will most likely recommended that you breastfeed your baby even though you may be HIV positive and should be able to advise you on how to do this safely.  For example, your doctor might recommend that you take ARVs (if you are not already on treatment) and give the baby a syrup called nevirapine once a day until one week after you stop breastfeeding, or other ARVs to prevent transmission. 

Also, your doctor might prescribe HIV treatment for your baby for up to 4 weeks after he or she is born, in order to stop them from developing HIV.

Remember to get an HIV test for your baby at 6 weeks, and again 6 weeks after stopping breastfeeding. Some babies may also have to test at other times, your doctor or nurse will give you more information. Always make sure you know when next to test your baby

Giving birth to an HIV negative baby is definitely possible and it requires you to get the right treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Your health and your baby’s health is important on every level so you need to speak to your nurse or doctor about any medical conditions you have and follow a healthy lifestyle. 

Remember, if you need help or advice, you can speak to me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Message, a Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).