HIV and Pregnancy

Preventing Perinatal Transmission of HIV After Birth

Last Reviewed: August 18, 2021

Key Points

  • Babies born to women with HIV should receive HIV medicine (as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 6 hours of delivery), to prevent perinatal transmission of HIV (also called mother-to-child transmission of HIV).
  • HIV medicines protect babies from HIV that could have passed from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth. (HIV medicines are called antiretrovirals.)
  • 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 perinatal 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 also 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 perinatal transmission of HIV?

After birth, all babies born to women with HIV should receive HIV medicines. This should be given as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 6 hours of delivery, to prevent perinatal transmission of HIV (also called mother-to-child transmission of HIV). HIV medicines given to babies after birth protect against HIV that could have passed from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth. (HIV medicines are called antiretrovirals.)

What HIV medicines are given to babies after birth to prevent perinatal transmission of HIV?

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

Babies at higher risk of perinatal 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 perinatal 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. Women with HIV can talk to their health care providers to discuss alternative options for feeding before their babies are born or even if they are already breastfeeding.

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

To learn more, read the HIVinfo fact sheets:

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:

Also see the HIV Source E-book for a collection of HIV links and resources.