SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- With the right HIV treatment and care, women with HIV can have children and breastfeed without fear of the virus passing on to their baby.
- Mother to child HIV transmission is now rare in Australia due to the availability of effective HIV treatment.
- Effective treatment can also prevent sexual transmission of HIV - so natural conception is an option even if one partner does not have the virus.
- If you have HIV, see your GP to discuss your conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding options. GPs can organise referrals to HIV services that help women with HIV manage their pregnancies.
- Women who are not on HIV treatment or have a detectable viral load can pass on HIV to their baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. Discuss your options with a practitioner experienced in HIV if you are pregnant or considering children.
What is HIV?
HIV is now very treatable, meaning AIDS is very rare in Australia.
HIV treatments (sometimes called antiretrovirals or ART) suppress HIV in the blood to very low levels. When standard blood tests cannot detect HIV (known as being 'undetectable' or U=U).
Most people who take their HIV treatment as prescribed, can expect an 'undetectable' viral load. They will also live long and healthy lives without developing AIDS.
When HIV is undetectable, it cannot spread through sex. It is safe to become pregnant and breastfeed without fear of passing the virus on to the baby.
How HIV spreads
In Australia, HIV is transmitted through:
- Anal or vaginal sex without the use of .
- Having unprotected sex with someone with HIV without using other prevention methods – like PrEP (an HIV prevention drug) or ‘undetectable viral load’ (when a person with HIV has very low levels of the virus in their body) known as U=U or undetectable = untransmittable.
- Sharing needles, syringes and other injecting equipment.
People on antiretroviral treatment (ART) who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load cannot spread HIV sexually.
For people who do not have HIV, regular use of condoms is the easiest way to prevent HIV.
HIV during pregnancy and childbirth
To prevent HIV passing from mother to child, 'the optimal scenario' is when these factors are present:
- HIV antiviral treatment
- sustained suppression of HIV replication
- regular ongoing contact with a clinical care team.
Several studies show when these conditions are in place, HIV transmission from mother to baby does not occur.
If women are not taking HIV treatments, or do not have an undetectable viral load, formula feeding is the safe option.
HIV and family planning
It may help to talk issues through with:
- Your treating doctor.
- HIV specialist, or family planning specialist.
- – (by GP referral). Clinic staff can provide expert advice about HIV in pregnancy and assisted reproductive technology options for serodiscordant couples (couples where one partner has HIV and the other does not).
- A counsellor who specialises in this area.
- A peer support worker – is someone living with HIV who can share their insights to help you understand what your experience might be and what to expect. Many peer support workers have lived experience planning and raising their own family.
Concerns women with HIV may have
It is common for women with HIV to have concerns about pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
An HIV clinician, counsellor or peer support worker can help to reassure you by providing advice to weigh up your options. These workers can become part of your care strategy when planning for or having children.
All conversations you have with them are private and confidential during this process.
See the ’where to get help’ section for more information.
Telling health professionals about your HIV status
You can to talk through any concerns and ensure treatment suits your needs before, during and after your pregnancy.
Testing positive for HIV during pregnancy
Receiving an HIV diagnosis during pregnancy can be a shocking and distressing experience.
It is important for women in this situation, to get immediate referral to clinicians knowledgeable about HIV and to other support services (including peer support).
Support is available through:
HIV pregnancy services in Victoria
If you have HIV and become pregnant, or would like to have a baby, see a specialist HIV service to discuss your options.
Victorians can access the following services:
- Victorian HIV Service, Alfred Hospital (no referral is necessary).
- Reproductive Services Clinic, Royal Women’s Hospital (by doctor referral) – doctors specialise in HIV and reproductive health. Assists couples of different serostatus where one partner has HIV and the other does not) to conceive safely.
When a partner with HIV has an undetectable viral load, there is zero risk of transmitting HIV to the partner without HIV. This makes it easier for discordant couples to conceive naturally.
HIV treatment and pregnancy
Not all HIV antiretroviral (ART) medications are safe during pregnancy. Some women may need some small treatment changes. Make an appointment with a doctor to talk about your treatment.
Pregnancy can be safe for a mother with HIV and her baby when HIV transmission reduction strategies are in place.
Reducing HIV transmission risk during pregnancy
For women with HIV, ways to reduce the risk of transmission include:
- Taking antiretroviral (ART) medications before conception to reduce your viral load (the amount of virus in the fluids in your body). The lower the viral load, the lower the risk of transmission to your unborn baby.
- Starting antiretroviral HIV treatment as soon as diagnosis (this will also help to optimise your overall health).
Being on effective treatment and having a low, or undetectable, viral load improves your immune system and health throughout pregnancy.
With specialised care, pregnancy for a mother with HIV today is the same as pregnancy for mothers without HIV.
Pregnancy does not make HIV progress any faster.
Childbirth and HIV
Baby feeding and HIV
With effective treatment and clinical support, breastfeeding is a safe option for women with HIV.
Some women with HIV may be advised that formula feeding is safer (such as women who are not on HIV treatment).
Formula feeding is an option that may be chosen by or recommended to some women with HIV.
Prevention treatment for babies of mothers with HIV
Treatment type and duration depends on a mother’s viral load and risk of transmission to her newborn. For mothers with an undetectable viral load at the time of delivery (the most common scenario in 2023), newborns only need 2 weeks treatment.
Babies will also be regularly tested for HIV, usually until they are 18 months old. Testing involves a combination of antibody and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests.
It is important that babies exposed to antiretroviral medication continue to be monitored. They are generally considered HIV negative by 3 months of age if they are not breastfed.
Babies born to women with HIV in Victoria are referred to specialised paediatric support – usually to the Royal Children’s Hospital or Monash Children's Hospital.
Babies with HIV
It is rare for babies to test positive for HIV. Many professionals and organisations are available to help you during this difficult time.
You can expect welcoming, non-judgemental and compassionate care for yourself and your baby. Medical care for babies with HIV is specialised.
With early diagnosis, babies can start effective treatment and have every chance for a long, healthy life.
Where to get help
- Your local community health service
- Tel. or or TTY (for the hearing impaired)
- If you believe you may have been exposed to HIV. Tel.
- Tel. (03) 9863 0444 or (for country callers)
- , Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health Tel.
- (formerly Victorian AIDS Council) Tel. or
- – comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for people of all ages. Tel. or
- Tel. Or
- , Wodonga Tel. or
- Tel: is a statewide phone service for information about sexual health as well as contraception and pregnancy options
- . To book an appointment call SHV Melbourne CBD Clinic: or call SHV Box Hill Clinic: or (free call): . These services are youth friendly.
- (throughout Victoria)
- , The Kirby Institute, UNSW, Australia
- , National Association of People with HIV Australia
- – offers wide ranging information about living with HIV, disclosing HIV status, having sex, taking treatment, caring for your body, having children, keeping well and getting support
- , 2013, Pozhet (Heterosexual HIV Service), Sydney Local Health District
- , The Royal Women’s Hospital, Victoria, Australia
- Tai JH, Udoji MA, Barkanic G, et al. 2007, '', The Journal of Infectious Diseases, vol. 196, no. 7, pp. 1044–1052
- , Health Equity Matters
- , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- , Sydney.
- Lindsay, M 2014, ‘Women with HIV infection on antiretroviral therapy with low viral loads can safely opt for vaginal delivery in the absence of obstetrical risk factors’, Evidenced-Based Medicine, vol 19, no. 4, p. 159.
- , British HIV Association, UK.
- , Australiasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM)
- , 2020, British HIV Association, UK.