Topic Overview

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend that all pregnant women be screened for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.footnote 2footnote 1This is because early detection and treatment are the key to preventing newborn HIV infection.footnote 1

Although your health professional may not offer an HIV test as part of your routine prenatal care, it's a good idea to have one. If you have any risk factors for HIV infection, your health professional may want to give you a second test later in your pregnancy.

If you or your partner has ever had unprotected sex (or shared needles) with a person whose HIV status is unknown, there is a chance that you have the virus. If you do have HIV, your baby could also become infected. The virus is usually passed on during labour and childbirth. It is sometimes is passed during pregnancy. Breastfeeding can pass the virus from mother to baby.

Treatment with medicines called antiretrovirals, both during pregnancy and after the birth, greatly reduces a baby's risk of HIV infection. Antiretroviral medicines prevent the virus from multiplying. When the amount of HIV in the blood is minimized, the immune system has a chance to recover and grow stronger.

Treatment for HIV during and/or after pregnancy may include:

  • Antiretroviral treatment for the mother.
  • Planned caesarean delivery for women who have a high viral load. This means they have a higher risk for infecting their babies.
  • Antiretroviral treatment for the baby for 6 weeks after birth.
  • No breastfeeding.

For more information, see the topic Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

Related Information



  1. Keenan-Lindsay L, Yudin M (2006). HIV screening in pregnancy. SOGC Clinical Practice Guideline No. 185. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 28(12): 1103–1107. Also available online:
  2. Canadian Paediatric Society (2008, reaffirmed 2012). Position statement from the Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee: Testing for HIV infection in pregnancy. Paediatrics and Child Health, 13(3): 221–224. Also available online:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

Current as ofMay 22, 2015