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HIV and Pregnancy

Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV After Birth

Last Reviewed: September 24, 2020

Key Points

  • Babies born to women with HIV receive HIV medicine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 6 to 12 hours of delivery. The HIV medicine protects the babies from infection with any HIV that passed from mother to child during childbirth.
  • HIV testing is recommended for all babies born to women with HIV at 14 to 21 days of life, at 1 to 2 months, and again at 4 to 6 months. Additional testing at birth and other time points is recommended for babies at higher risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
  • If testing shows that a baby has HIV, the baby receives antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is the daily use of a combination of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. ART helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives.
  • HIV can spread from a mother to her child through breast milk. In the United States, infant formula is a safe and readily available alternative to breast milk. For these reasons, women with HIV who live in the United States should not breastfeed their babies.

After birth, do babies born to women with HIV receive HIV medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV?

Babies born to women with HIV receive HIV medicine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 6 to 12 hours of delivery. (HIV medicines are called antiretrovirals.) The HIV medicine protects the babies from infection with any HIV that may have passed from mother to child during childbirth.

After birth, which HIV medicine do babies born to women with HIV receive?

The HIV medicine that a baby receives depends on the mother’s viral load and other factors.

Babies born to women who take HIV medicines as prescribed during pregnancy and who have sustained zidovudine (brand name: Retrovir) for 4 weeks after birth.

Babies at higher risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV receive three HIV medicines for up to 6 weeks after birth. This includes babies born to women who are not virally suppressed near delivery.

How soon after birth are babies born to women with HIV tested for HIV?

HIV testing is recommended for all babies born to women with HIV at 14 to 21 days of life, at 1 to 2 months, and again at 4 to 6 months. Additional testing at birth and other time points is recommended for babies at higher risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The HIV test (called a virologic test) looks for HIV in the blood.

If testing shows that a baby has HIV, the baby receives antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is the daily use of a combination of HIV medicines to treat HIV infection. ART helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives.

What other steps protect babies from HIV?

HIV can spread from a mother to her child through breast milk. In the United States, infant formula is a safe and readily available alternative to breast milk. For these reasons, women with HIV who live in the United States should not breastfeed their babies.

Additionally, babies should not eat food that was pre-chewed by a person with HIV.

This fact sheet is based on information from the following sources:

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
From the Department of Health and Human Services: