Mother-to-child transmission

Mother-to-child HIV transmission (sometimes called perinatal or vertical transmission) can occur during pregnancy, during labour or after delivery through breastfeeding.

Mother-to-child transmission is rare in Australia because there are a number of interventions available that significantly reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission. These are:

  • Treatment with antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy
  • A caesarean section - in some circumstances
  • Treating the baby with HIV antiretroviral drugs for four to six weeks after delivery
  • Not breastfeeding. (Outside Australia breastfeeding may be preferred if the water supply is not safe).

National HIV Surveillance figures show that between 2005 and 2014, 242 HIV-positive women gave birth, and there were only four HIV infections among their children (a transmission rate of 1.7% - compared to 32% between 1990 and 1994).

Two of these infections were in children whose mothers were not diagnosed with HIV until after the birth and who therefore did not have access to strategies to prevent HIV transmission.


Serodiscordant couples (where only one partner is HIV positive) need to plan how to reduce the risk of the HIV-negative partner being infected with HIV if they intend to conceive through sex.

A person who is on treatment and has a low or undetectable viral load is very unlikely to transmit HIV to their partner; however some couples may consider the HIV-negative partner also taking HIV antiretrovirals as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) at this time. Access to PrEP is currently very limited in Australia.

See also:

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis