About HIV and Pregnancy Loss

With Treatment, the Risk of a Miscarriage or Stillbirth Due to HIV Is Low

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If you are a woman who has been diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), you may be wondering if you can have a normal pregnancy or if you are at risk for a miscarriage.

Although HIV can increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, the risk is lower today than it was in the past. About 6,000 to 7,000 HIV-positive women have babies every year in the U.S. 

Keep reading to learn what you can do to reduce your own risk of a pregnancy loss.

What the Research Shows About HIV and Pregnancy Loss

As medical advances continue to improve the quality and length of life for people with HIV, more and more women are facing the question of pregnancy with HIV. But what's the impact on the baby?

In the past, before early diagnosis of HIV in pregnant women and highly effective medications, women were at greater risk of pregnancy loss. In 1998, British researchers looked at 31 studies of pregnancy outcomes in HIV-infected women. They found that HIV-positive women were about four times more likely to have a pregnancy that resulted in miscarriage or stillbirth. 

Today, with appropriate care, women with HIV have good chances of being able to deliver healthy babies. Recent studies of women with good prenatal care who took HAART drugs (highly active antiretroviral therapy) show that the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth is about the same as in uninfected women.

A 2004 study looked at women who used modern antiretroviral drugs and found that although women with HIV were less likely to conceive, once they were pregnant, their miscarriage rates were similar to HIV-negative women.

What You Can Do to Keep Your Baby Healthy

Women with HIV may experience other pregnancy complications besides pregnancy loss: 

  • The biggest risk is passing the infection to your baby. 
  • Some studies suggest that HIV-positive women may have a greater risk of having a preterm delivery or a low birth-weight infant.
  • An infant's growth may be affected by how advanced the mother's HIV was during pregnancy.

Fortunately, you can take steps to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby even if you are HIV-positive. During your pregnancy, you will need to take a regimen of anti-HIV medications to reduce the risk of passing the infection to your baby.

Thanks to medications, today the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is very low, less than 2 percent.

If you are planning on becoming pregnant or just found out you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about what you can do to be as healthy as possible. Ideally, your HIV will be well controlled during your pregnancy. A study published in 2015 found that a pregnant woman's viral load (the amount of HIV virus replicating in her body) affected her risk of pregnancy loss. The women with the lowest viral load had the lowest risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. 

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