Advances in antiretroviral regimens and specific obstetrical procedures have enabled HIV-positive women to have children, with a very low risk of transmitting the infection to the infant and with improved chances of seeing their children reach adulthood. New studies have given providers of care better information on how to assist women with HIV who want to have a child in the safest possible way.
Highly active antiretroviral therapy can effectively control viral replication and reduce the risk of vertical transmission. The benefit of treatment for the mother and the infant must be balanced against any negative effects on pregnancy, the embryo and the fetus. Potential long-term consequences of prenatal exposure to potent compounds should also be considered and monitored. The evidence suggests that even in women with undetectable viral load, Caesarean section reduces vertical transmission to the same degree as documented previously for all women. Although the absolute risk reduction is very low, no study can show whether or not this is statistically significant and therefore women should be helped to make their individual choice. Mothers with HIV should not breastfeed in countries where formula milk is easily available, however highly active antiretroviral therapy administered to mothers or infants may reduce the risk of postnatal HIV transmission.
Counselling and assistance to conceive, modification of the therapeutic regimens and options about delivery have changed dramatically since the beginning of the HIV epidemic. Nowadays, women with HIV, similarly to uninfected women, can discuss with their doctors which therapeutic and treatment options would best fit their expectations of care.
University of Milan Medical School, Milan, Italy
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