HIV Testing in Pregnancy

HIV testing during pregnancy is done to reduce the risk of HIV transmission from mother to baby. Without treatment, there is a 15 to 30 percent chance that HIV will be passed on to the baby during pregnancy, labour and delivery, or through breastfeeding.

The risk of transmission drops dramatically, to between one and eight per cent, if the mother is tested early and, in the case of a positive test, she takes anti-viral drugs during her pregnancy.


Why test pregnant women?

Testing is important so women can make informed choices about their own health and the health of their new baby.

When should testing take place?

Your family doctor can do the test. Following are our recommendations:

  • Ideally, have the test before you are pregnant.
  • Be tested as soon as you know you are pregnant. If a pre-pregnancy test was negative, a woman and her health care professional would decide whether to retest based on her lifestyle.
  • Repeat testing during pregnancy if a woman is at ongoing risk of HIV based on her lifestyle choices.

How to test

Testing remains the woman's decision.

  • All pregnant women receive counselling about HIV and testing.
  • HIV antibody testing takes place with informed consent.
  • Counselling about the test result and what it means.


In a woman who tests HIV positive, anti-viral drugs can reduce the risk of transmission to the baby to one to eight per cent. Without drugs, the risk of transmission is 15 to 30 per cent.

  • Ideally, the mother begins treatment by 14 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Drugs are given intravenously during labour & delivery.
  • The baby is given a drug syrup for six weeks.

Benefits of testing

Benefits for mom

  • Knowing you are infected helps you make choices about your care.
  • Early treatment keeps you healthy longer.
  • May prevent the transmission of HIV to baby.

Benefits for baby

  • Mom taking anti-HIV drugs during pregnancy reduces the risk of infection to less than eight percent.
  • Avoiding breastfeeding reduces the risk of infection.
  • Knowing about the infection means treatment is started sooner, keeping the baby healthier longer.

Risks of testing

Risks for mom

  • It can be hard to wait for the test result.
  • Your partner may have difficulty dealing with a positive test result.
  • Friends, family and agencies may treat you differently.

Risks for baby

  • Little is known about the use of "new" drugs in pregnancy and their effects on fetal growth.
  • People may treat the baby as "sick" even if the baby is not infected.
  • Friends, family and agencies may treat your baby differently.

More information

For more information about HIV testing, please call:

  • Your Family Physician
  • The Sexual Health and Harm Reduction program at Region of Waterloo Public Health: 519-883-2267
  • Motherisk Line at 1-888-246-5840