(Last updated 11/14/2016; last reviewed 11/14/2016)
Babies born to women with HIV receive an HIV medicine called zidovudine (brand name: Retrovir) within 6 to 12 hours after birth. (In certain situations, a baby may receive other HIV medicines in addition to zidovudine.) The HIV medicine protects the babies from infection with any HIV that may have passed from mother to child during childbirth.
The use of HIV medicines and other strategies before and after childbirth have greatly reduced the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Fewer than 200 babies with HIV are born each year in the United States.
In general, babies born to women with HIV receive zidovudine for 4 to 6 weeks after birth.
Once the 4- to 6-week course of zidovudine is finished, the babies receive a medicine called sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (brand name: Bactrim). Bactrim helps prevent Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PCP), which is a type of pneumonia that can develop in people with HIV. If HIV testing shows that a baby is not infected with HIV, Bactrim is stopped.
After birth, care for babies born to women with HIV includes HIV testing, usually at 14 to 21 days of life, at 1 to 2 months, and again at 4 to 6 months. The HIV test used (called a virologic test) looks directly for HIV in the blood.
Results from at least two HIV virologic tests are needed to know for certain whether a baby is HIV negative or HIV positive.
If testing shows that a baby is HIV positive, the baby is switched from zidovudine to a combination of HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART). ART helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives.
Because HIV can spread in breast milk, women with HIV who live in the United States should not breastfeed their babies. In the United States, infant formula is a safe and healthy alternative to breast milk.
There are reports of children becoming infected with HIV by eating food that was previously chewed by a person with HIV. To be safe, babies should not be fed pre-chewed food.