Preventing mother-to-child transmission

HIV treatment can also prevent the transmission of HIV from a mother to her fetus or child during pregnancy or when giving birth.

Before effective treatment was available, about one in four babies born to HIV-positive mothers was born HIV-positive. But now, if you start HIV treatment before you are pregnant, remain engaged in care and maintain an undetectable viral load throughout your pregnancy, you will not pass HIV to your baby.

Canadian treatment guidelines recommend:

  • HIV medicine for the mother during pregnancy and labour
  • HIV medicine for the baby for a short period after birth
  • vaginal delivery for most pregnancies, and in some cases a C-section (surgery to remove the baby from the uterus)
  • feeding the baby formula and not breastfeeding

Breastfeeding still carries a small risk for HIV transmission even if the mother’s viral load is undetectable. If you’re pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider about safe alternatives to breastfeeding (subsidized baby formula is available for mothers living with HIV in some parts of the country). If you choose to breastfeed your baby, it is important to work with a knowledgeable healthcare provider who can monitor your health and support you and your baby.

All of these new findings about the benefits of HIV treatment have huge implications for living well with HIV. If you have questions about HIV treatment, its role in prevention and what this means for you, talk to your HIV healthcare provider.