How common is it for a baby to be born with HIV and to develop AIDS? Not very. The National Institutes of Health estimates that fewer than 200 babies each year are born with HIV in the United States. Why? Access to prenatal care, medications, and formula are crucial to stopping the transmission of the HIV virus.
A baby can contract HIV from the mother during pregnancy, during birth, or from breastmilk. However, when the mother has HIV, a number of steps can be taken to reduce the chance of mother-to-infant transmission. First, a woman taking daily anti-HIV medication has a much lower chance of passing the virus to her baby. All pregnant women are checked for HIV early in their pregnancy and again at delivery, in attempt to get all HIV positive women on anti-retroviral medications as soon as possible. If positive, medications can be secured at no cost for any woman who requires them.
Other steps to prevent transmission include birth by C-section (which prevents the risk of HIV-tainted blood from coming in contact with the baby) and formula feeding to prevent transmission via breast milk. Good prenatal care is vital in decreasing the chances of an infant being born with the HIV virus.
It can be difficult to detect HIV in newborns. A series of blood tests are taken from birth through the first six months of life. Babies born to infected mothers are given anti-HIV drugs, such as zidovudine, for six weeks following birth as a preventative measure even if their initial blood tests are negative for the virus. They are also followed closely by an expert in HIV, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, who helps the family determine when, if ever, medication should be discontinued.
Worldwide, however, the situation is more grim—about 250,000-370,000 babies are born every year with HIV or acquire it shortly after birth. Most of these births occur in developing countries with poor access to prevention, treatment, and alternative sources of infant nutrition.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019
- Early prenatal care is critical in decreasing the chances that a woman with HIV will pass the virus to her unborn child.
- Anti-HIV medications are available to women in the United States regardless of ability to pay.
- The HIV virus is transmitted by blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breastmilk.