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I am HIV positive and just had a baby. When will I know if my baby is HIV positive or negative?

Congratulations on your new family member!  You are one of the many HIV positive parents who give birth every year!  With medical care and treatment, it is expected that an HIV positive parent(s) are able to have a child who is HIV negative.

In Manitoba all pregnant people are tested for HIV so that if they test positive they have the opportunity to start HIV treatment to decrease the risk of transmission to the child.  It’s recommended that a pregnant person starts HIV treatment prior to, or early in pregnancy to suppress the virus, and decrease the risk of transmitting HIV to their baby during pregnancy or delivery.  The pregnant parent also receives intravenous HIV treatment during labour and the baby, once born, is started on short-term HIV treatment to decrease the risk of transmission.  With no HIV treatment the risk of transmission to the child is approximately 25%; with parental HIV treatment during pregnancy and during labour plus short term treatment given to the baby, the risk is decreased to less than 1%.  In some circumstances a cesarean section is also recommended to decrease this risk, but usually this is not needed.

Scheduled, repeat HIV testing for the baby will be necessary once the infant finishes the HIV treatment course (usually 4-6 weeks).  Your doctor will let you know when these tests will happen.  As for the time frame of when you will have results, because babies carry some of their mother’s antibodies, including HIV antibodies, initial testing may not be conclusive.  Early testing may be able to confirm an HIV positive diagnosis (with confirmatory testing) before 18 months old, but an HIV negative result may not be able to be confirmed until the child is 18 months.

This 18-month period can be an anxious time for the family.  Anxiety around waiting for HIV confirmatory test results is very common, and having to wait this long can be very challenging.  Consider what will help you manage your anxiety during this period; whether it’s the support of a knowledgeable health care team, support from trusted and caring family/friends, professional counselling or a support group for people living with HIV.

Your child’s doctor will also want to know ASAP so that they can go over treatment and care options with you.  If your child is HIV positive, they can receive great care and lead a healthy life on HIV treatment.

In the meantime, you should also refrain from breastfeeding the child.  In Manitoba, Nine Circles Community Health Centre can give you information about a provincial program available to HIV positive mothers to access free formula for one year in order to avoid transmission through breast milk.

Congratulations again, I hope this helps you and your growing family!