If a woman is pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, it is important to get tested for HIV. The good news is, it is possible for women living with HIV to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby born without HIV.
Ways to reduce the chance of passing HIV through vertical transmission (from the woman to the fetus) are:
- having a supportive doctor who is knowledgeable about HIV and pregnancy
- taking HIV antiretrovirals during pregnancy and during labour
- having the amount of virus in the woman’s blood (viral load) checked before it is time for delivery to decide between a cesarean section or a vaginal birth (cesarean section deliveries are recommended if the amount of virus in the woman’s blood is high)
- giving the baby HIV antiretroviral medication for 6 weeks after delivery
- use formula feeding instead of breast feeding, as breast milk can pass HIV to the baby. In Saskatoon, HIV positive women can get free formula through the Positive Living Program. For more information about this program, visit their website here.
AIDS Saskatoon’s Family Support Program can offer support and advocacy for women who are HIV positive and pregnant.
What if you are a man living with HIV – can you father children that do not have HIV? Yes – there are several options available for HIV positive men:
- Artificial insemination with “washed” sperm – a lab removes all the seminal fluid (where most of the virus lives) from around the live sperm, and the “washed” sperm can then be used to fertilize an egg (insemination). This process must be done in a fertility clinic – there have been no reported incidents of HIV transmission through insemination with washed sperm.
- Unprotected sex – some people decide to have sex without a condom to produce a pregnancy. The risk of passing HIV to the other partner may be less if the person with HIV is taking antiretrovirals and has an undetectable viral load (the amount of HIV in their blood is less than 40-50 copies per milliliter of blood), but there is still a risk that HIV could be transmitted. Because this method is not completely safe, it is not recommended by experts. The amount of HIV in a person’s blood is not always the same as the amount of virus in their semen, so even if their viral load is undetectable there is a chance that their partner could become infected with HIV.
If you are an HIV positive man who would like to father a child, it is best to discuss this with your doctor and decide together on the safest way to proceed.
For more information on HIV and pregnancy, check out these sites:
In 2014, UNAIDS launched ambitious new targets for the scale up of antiretroviral treatment, known as 90-90-90. Their aim is that by 2020: