Every parent dream about their child’s future; a bright future filled with happiness and good health. These dreams and aspirations are no different for an HIV-positive mother. Luckily, we live in an era where effective treatment for HIV is freely available and being HIV infected does not have to mean that these dreams cannot become reality.
Due to the successful Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) program, we have much fewer babies being infected with HIV. However, although these babies are not infected themselves, they are still affected: the health and wellbeing of their mothers are paramount to their own health.
The most important factor in preventing your child from getting HIV is to ensure your viral load is undetectable. An undetectable viral load means your antiretroviral treatment (ART) has reduced your HIV to such small quantities that it can no longer be detected by standard blood tests. If you are undetectable, you cannot pass HIV on through sex. The risk of transmitting HIV to your baby is also dramatically reduced.
HIV can be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy, during childbirth and via breast milk. Therefore, by keeping your viral load undetectable you can keep your baby safe and healthy.
Adequate nutrition is one of the corner stones of child health and there is no doubt that breastfeeding is the best food for your baby. It does not only fulfil all their nutritional needs, but also protects them from disease. You can safely breastfeed your baby if your viral load is undetectable, meaning your baby gets all the nutritional benefits of breastfeeding ensuring optimal growth and development, but also the emotional benefits of bonding with you.
To ensure your child does not only survive, but thrive, make sure you do the following:
- Plan your pregnancy
- Get tested for HIV
- Take your ART every day
- Identify a friend or family member to support you
- Attend your clinic visits regularly
- Keep your viral load suppressed
- Eat healthy, get enough sleep and moderate exercise
- Always practice safe sex – especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Be kind to yourself; do not allow any form of abuse
With HIV now seen as a chronic illness, there is hope for an HIV-free generation. HIV infected couples can have HIV negative children who can achieve their full potential and realise those dreams their parents had for them.
Dr Riana van Zyl is a paediatrician with a passion for not only HIV infected but also affected children. She has a special interest in adolescents living with HIV. She also has a passion for paediatric specific research. “I want to improve outcomes of our children by enabling ethical, innovative, collaborative research.” She is also one of the founding directors of the MACAH Foundation.