HIV in pregnancy: You can have HIV and have a healthy baby

To Deanna Polsgrove, patients are like family. So, when her patient gave birth to a healthy baby girl, she celebrated with her. But this celebration was particularly extraordinary.

Deanna Polsgrove, practice manager for Norton Infectious Disease Specialists, considers patients to be like family. She cries with them and celebrates with them.

So, when a patient gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Deanna celebrated with her. But this celebration was particularly extraordinary — the  patient has human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), but the patient’s baby does not.

This patient agreed to share her story anonymously. Hers is a story of having HIV, being committed to treatment, and giving birth to a baby girl who does not have the virus. It’s a testament to how far treatment has come for HIV and the successful outcomes and normal life that people with HIV achieve.
Patient: To be honest, I wasn’t that worried about transmitting HIV to my baby. My doctors reassured me that I could have a healthy baby. In fact, of all the things I was dealing with during my pregnancy, HIV worried me least. At my first appointment I was given a list of conditions that made my pregnancy high risk. HIV was the last one listed because it was the least concerning to my doctors.

 I did everything I was supposed to in order to treat the HIV — before, during and after my pregnancy. I didn’t miss my medication, even when I suffered from severe morning sickness early on in the pregnancy. My doctors told me to take it anyway, because even if I vomited, some of the medicine could still be effective.

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 Throughout my pregnancy I received specialized care and monitoring from a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, infectious disease specialists and my OB/GYN. Also, because of the HIV diagnosis, I had to have a cesarean section and wasn’t able to breastfeed.

 After my baby was born, she was on medication to prevent HIV for six weeks as a precaution. She was tested for HIV at different intervals: immediately after birth, the day we left the hospital, and at one month and four months. Her results were negative every time, and she no longer needs to be tested; I may continue to have her tested periodically just to be sure and to give me peace of mind.

 Here’s my advice to people who are newly diagnosed with HIV, or women who have HIV and are pregnant: Relax, stay calm, and take things day by day. Do what your doctor tells you to do, and stay busy by living your life. I still live as if I don’t have HIV; treatment for HIV is no different than treatment for something like high blood pressure — I simply take a pill every day to stay well.

 You can live a normal, healthy, productive and fun-filled life with HIV. It truly is your choice and a matter of how you decide to face your diagnosis. It was an eye-opener to me to take care of myself, and that has made my life better.
 According to Deanna, the risk of a woman with HIV transmitting it to her baby is less than 1% when she follows all treatment and prevention protocols. Women now are tested for HIV throughout their pregnancy. In 2016, HIV testing within Norton Healthcare became part of the standard group of blood tests for a woman during her first pregnancy appointment.

“If a baby can live inside the mother and not get HIV, that should tell us something about the low risk of transmission when a patient follows treatment and prevention protocols,” Deanna said. “People can live a normal life with HIV. The treatment may mean simply taking a pill every day, and there are resources available to help patients afford the medication. In 2019, smoking takes more years off your life than HIV.”

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