By: Jeannie Wraight
Being very public about my HIV diagnosis and writing for several HIV publications, I’m constantly receiving emails from people living with HIV, telling me their stories and asking questions. One issue that comes up a lot in these communications is pregnancy.
Couples who are both HIV-positive and those who are negative with positive partners ask if it is safe to have children because they are unsure.
The answer is, very simply, “Yes! HIV-positive people can have healthy, HIV negative children!”
There is a large body of research which shows that if the mother is on ARV’s (antiretroviral drugs) there is less than a 2 percent risk of her baby being born positive: “"Today, the risk of giving HIV to your newborn is below 2 percent. But you and the baby must get the right HIV drugs at the right times... ". (WomensHealth.gov http://www.womenshealth.gov/hiv-aids/living-with-hiv-aids/pregnancy-and-hiv.cfm). Of course, 2 percent is still a significant risk, especially as only 3 percent of all newborns have birth defects (http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/index.html).
Anecdotally, I’ve known hundreds of HIV-positive women, and not one has given birth to an HIV-positive child while on HIV antiretrovirals. That doesn’t mean it never happens. It’s just much more rare, especially if ARV’s are taken properly and consistently.
Great strides have been made in protecting an HIV negative partner from possible infection during attempts to become pregnant. Over the past several years, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has been shown to decrease the risk of HIV infection significantly. It is a new HIV prevention method in which people who do not have HIV take a daily pill to reduce their risk of becoming infected.
PrEP can be used for longer and shorter periods of time while trying to conceive. It should only taken under medical supervision, and the same vigilance in assuring 100% adherence to medication must be applied for an HIV-negative person as with an HIV-positive person.
Deciding whether to have children or not is a very personal decision made in light of important facts and risks. The crucial thing to remember is that it can be done much more safely than in the past. So, factor in your HIV status along with other important aspects of your life and make your decision, whatever it maybe. You, your partner, God, wise counsel and informed consideration of the risks can be invaluable guides.