Pregnant women with HIV may not know they are infected. CDC recommends HIV testing for all women as part of routine prenatal care. According to CDC research, more women take the prenatal HIV test if the opt-out approach is used. Opt-out prenatal HIV testing means that a pregnant woman is told she will be given an HIV test as part of routine prenatal care unless she opts out and chooses not to have the test. In some parts of the country where HIV among women is more common, CDC recommends a second test during the third trimester of pregnancy.
Many HIV medical care providers don’t routinely offer pregnancy tests, preconception care, family planning services, or prenatal care for women with HIV. A woman with HIV may not know she is pregnant, how to prevent or safely plan a pregnancy, or what she can do to reduce her risk of transmitting HIV to her baby if she is pregnant.
Women living with HIV can learn what to do to lower their risk of transmitting HIV to their babies. Women can:
Take HIV medicines (antiretroviral treatment, or ART) for their own health if they think they might want to become pregnant.
When pregnant, take HIV medicines the right way every day throughout the pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
After delivery, ensure their infants take HIV medicines.
Avoid pre-chewing food for an infant, toddler, or anyone else.
The risk of perinatal HIV transmission is much higher if the mother’s antiretroviral HIV treatment is interrupted at any time during pregnancy, labor, or delivery, or if HIV medicines are not provided to her infant. Pregnant women living with HIV may have nausea during pregnancy that can interfere with taking medicines, and new mothers may not be able to see their HIV medical care provider consistently.
Social and economic factors, especially poverty, affect access to all health care, and disproportionately affect people living with HIV. Pregnant women living with HIV may face more barriers to accessing medical care if they also use injection drugs, abuse other substances, or are homeless, incarcerated, mentally ill, or uninsured.