Pre-fix: A guide for people with Hep C or HIV who inject drugs

Pregnant or thinking about having a baby?

Can I have a healthy baby if I have Hep C or HIV?

Healthy pregnancies and healthy babies are possible for people who have Hep C (hepatitis C) or HIV.

Transmitting Hep C during pregnancy is very rare. However, the chances increase if you also have HIV. If you are going on Hep C treatment that includes ribavirin before you get pregnant, you need to wait six months after finishing treatment to get pregnant, because ribavirin can harm your baby. This applies to both the person who will become pregnant and the person with sperm.

It is not clear what effect new Hep C medications can have during pregnancy. Speak with your doctor and pharmacist to find out more about which drugs are safe and which are not.

HIV can pass to a baby during pregnancy, birth or nursing. However with proper HIV treatment and care, the chances of having an HIV-positive baby are less than one percent.

Sometimes people make the difficult decision to end the pregnancy. There is a time limit as to when the procedure for ending the pregnancy can be done safely. If you are thinking about this option, you need to talk to a health worker as early as possible in the pregnancy.

How can drug use affect my baby?

Drugs and alcohol can have a negative effect on your unborn child. It is safer not to use drugs or to reduce the amount of drugs you use during pregnancy. If you decide you want to quit, talk to your doctor about the best way to do that, since quitting cold turkey could harm you and your unborn baby. If you are addicted to opiates, it is safer for you and your baby to be on methadone than to stop taking opiates and not go on methadone.  

How can I take care of myself and my baby?

Getting good healthcare while you are pregnant, avoiding stress as much as possible, reducing or stopping your drug use, getting support, sleeping enough and eating healthy are some of the things you can do to take care of yourself and your baby.

Seeing a doctor or a nurse regularly while you are pregnant is one of the best things you can do for your baby. This type of care is called prenatal care. Getting regular prenatal care is important because your doctor will monitor your health and the health of your baby and can catch possible problems.

Some people get the message that they are a bad mother or parent if they are pregnant and use drugs. It can be really hard to hear that or think that about yourself. Try to remember that doing the best you can to take care of yourself and your baby is what is important, regardless of whether you can reduce or stop your drug use.   

As much as you can, try to avoid stressful situations. Getting as much support as you can from family, friends and social workers or counsellors can help you to decrease stress, take care of yourself and feel better about yourself as a parent. 

Eating as much healthy food as you can and taking prenatal multivitamins that include folic acid (which is important for your baby’s development) can also help to keep you and your baby healthy while you are pregnant.

Can my child get HIV or Hep C if I breastfeed or chest feed?

Breastfeeding or chest feeding1 is generally not a risk for Hep C transmission to your baby, but it is a risk for HIV. If you have HIV it’s important to feed baby formula to your newborn child. If you can’t afford baby formula, some provinces and territories or local organizations provide it for free. If not, talk to a peer or harm reduction worker to try to find another solution.

For more information on having a healthy pregnancy check out the CATIE booklet, You can have a healthy pregnancy if you are HIV positive.

For more information about Hep C and breastfeeding check out Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Are they safe?

  • 1. Chest feeding refers to nursing an infant using one’s chest. It is a term sometimes used by people on the trans masculine spectrum who feel more comfortable with this language.