Mothers can reduce the risk of infecting their babies if they:
- Use antiviral medications,
- Keep the delivery time short, and
- Don’t breast-feed the baby
Use antiviral medications: The risk of transmitting HIV drops from 20% to 8% or less if antiviral medications are used. Transmission rates are lowest if the mother takes AZT during the last six months of her pregnancy, and the newborn takes AZT for six weeks after birth.
AZT (Retrovirreg;), is a drug used for antiviral therapy. It is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. AZT is also known as azido-deoxythymidine, zidovudine or ZDV.
AZT was the first drug approved for the treatment of HIV. It is a nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitor, or nuke. These drugs block the reverse transcriptase enzyme. This enzyme changes HIV’s genetic material (RNA) into the form of DNA. This has to occur before HIV’s genetic code gets inserted into an infected cell’s own genetic codes.
Even if the mother does not take antiviral medications until she is in labor, the transmission rate can be cut by almost half. Two methods have been studied:
- AZT and 3TC during labor, and for both mother and child for one week after the birth.
- One dose of nevirapine during labor, and one dose for the newborn, 2 to 3 days after birth. Although these shorter treatments do not work as well, they are less expensive and might be helpful in developing countries.
3TC (Epivirreg;), is a drug used for antiviral therapy. It is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. 3TC is also known as lamivudine.
3TC is a nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitor, or nuke. These drugs block the reverse transcriptase enzyme. This enzyme changes HIV’s genetic material (RNA) into the form of DNA. This has to occur before HIV’s genetic code gets inserted into an infected cell’s own genetic codes.
Keep delivery time short: The risk of transmission increases with longer delivery times. If the mother uses AZT and delivers her baby by cesarean section (C-section), she can reduce the risk of transmission to about 2%.
Do not breast-feed the baby: There is about a 14% chance that a baby will get HIV infection from infected breast milk. This risk can be eliminated if HIV-infected women do not breast-feed babies. Baby formulas should be used.
In developing countries, however, there might not be clean water to prepare baby formulas. The World Health Organization believes that the risk of transmitting HIV is less than the health risk of using contaminated water.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD