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Understanding HIV and pregnancy

Protect your baby by learning more about HIV and your body. If you have HIV you have a 1 in 4 chance of passing it on to your baby. As long as there are no STI's your body protects your baby to a large extent from HIV.

How does it do this? 

  • While you are pregnant your vagina has an unfavourable acidic environment, which does not encourage the survival of the HI Virus.
  • While pregnant your hormones thicken the wall of the vagina to protect against infections, including  HIV, unless you have an STI.
  • The protective mucous plug in the cervix protects against HIV gaining entry to your womb.
  • The placenta, when there is no bleeding, injury or infection) also provides a protective barrier  against viral transfer during pregnancy.

What increases the risk of passing HIV to your baby?

-         If your baby is premature there is a greater risk

-         if there is cutting (episiotomy), tearing or other invasive procedures during birth (using forceps or foetal scalp monitoring, using medical tools)

-         If there is a problem with the placenta coming away before birth, or after birth

-         Breastfeeding with cracked or bleeding nipples or if the baby has oral thrush

-         If the mother is in advanced stages of Aids and has a vitamin A deficiency

What must you do to help prevent transfer of HIV to your baby?

For the pregnancy blood work schedule you will need to do a baseline CD4 count, viral load test, full blood count, urea & electrolytes and screening for syphillis (STD). All pregnant women will be put on the new one-a-day ARVs, regardless of your CD4 count.

In addition, like everyone else you will have a Rubella test; an Rh Status and antibody screening blood tests, which also check blood type. This is why it is important to start antenatal clinic early. The baseline bloods are done at the beginning of pregnancy at 4 weeks.  You will need to check your CD4 count and viral load at 28 weeks. Blood pressure and urine tests are done at every antenatal visit.

You need to know the following:

A high viral load = high risk to baby

Low viral load = minimal risk to baby

High white blood cell count = good personal immunity

Low white blood cell count = poor personal immunity

HIV makes a person more at risk of infections. Cook foods well, wash hands often and go to the clinic when you feel sick. You CAN be healthy! By changing your sexual behaviour and keeping yourself healthy you can control HIV in your body and reduce the risk of passing it to your baby. 

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