I found your site through a friend of mine who knows you personally, but I do not want to share his name. I’m a twenty-six-year-old HIV-positive female. Well, I just found out two days ago that I’m pregnant. I’m scared of transmitting HIV to my unborn child; what should I do? I haven’t been to see my regular doctor yet. Please help me. What should I do?—Andrea
Go see your doctor immediately. Listen, the faster you see a doctor the more that can be done about taking preventive measures to protect your unborn child. Okay, so here are some facts. Yes, a mother can pass on HIV to her unborn child but if precautions are taken this percentage is lowered to single digits. There are HIV medications that many women take during pregnancy. Also, when the child is born, doctors might suggest that he or she start on medications as well. When delivery time is near you could opt for a C-section or vaginal delivery, depending on the state of your health. During childbirth there are a lot of fluids between mother and baby, but the less fluid during the delivery the better. But the main thing is to see a doctor; they will run blood tests on you and be upfront about your HIV status so that they know to take the proper precautions to protect you and your unborn child. When your doctor runs all the blood tests, HIV will come up anyway, whether you tell them or not. Trust and believe that you will be fine. I am not your doctor and I cannot tell you if your child will be born HIV-positive or not but think positively—it’s beneficial to your state of mind and your baby. Just keep in mind that you are thinking for two. By the way, congratulations!
My wife and I are HIV-positive and we feel that breastfeeding is a bonding moment for the mother and child. We are not going to breastfeed our baby, who is HIV-negative, because we are afraid that we would pass on HIV to our baby. But we have friends that beg to differ. I think they are more worried about bonding with their child than they are about the health of their own child. I want to ask you your opinion because I know they read your column. They have told us that their child is HIV-negative but continue to breastfeed him. What do you think they should do?—HIV Parents
Well, let me just say congrats on the baby and I’m so happy for you both. I hope your friends are reading this. They need to stop breastfeeding immediately or take proper precautions to lower the infection rate; just because their child is now HIV-negative it doesn’t mean that the child will not develop HIV later on through breastfeeding by the HIV-positive mother. Even though breastfeeding has been proven beneficial to both baby and mother it has a chance of HIV infection. Breast milk is filled with nutrients and antibodies that can protect the child against diseases, but it has never been proven that it protects against HIV. Also, as the baby grows and matures, so does breast milk to better adapt to the baby’s needs. The mother while breastfeeding has a lower rate of being diagnosed with certain diseases as well. These benefits are great but, being HIV-positive, one must take precautions. In this area of HIV transmission, breastfeeding, I’m afraid, must be avoided. But you can feed your baby in another way, by using commercial formula. In many parts of the world breastfeeding is the only option because of lack of finances and resources. One out of four children worldwide is infected with HIV through breastfeeding. I hope you’re listening.
Justin B. Terry-Smith has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Now, with this column, Justin has found a way to give voice to the issues that people write to him about. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected]