Pregnancy takes its toll on the body, whether you’re HIV-positive or not. A developing foetus takes whatever it needs from its mother’s body (vitamins, minerals, etc) without caring how it might be affecting the mother’s health and well-being. For this reason, a woman needs to make sure that she has enough nutrients for both her developing foetus and herself at all times, so that they both remain healthy.
Although pregnancy itself does not make your HIV disease worse, and HIV does not change how your pregnancy proceeds, remaining healthy during your pregnancy is very important for HIV-positive women. For example, one of the first things to be affected by pregnancy is a woman’s immune system. This is why so many women get sick at the start of their pregnancies. For a woman who is HIV-positive, a lowered immune system can pose additional complications.
If you are not already on an anti-retroviral treatment (ART), it might be best to start at around 12-14 weeks of pregnancy, depending on your viral load. If your viral load is high, you will need to start ART as soon as possible, but if it is low, holding off on medication will ensure your baby’s development is not negatively affected through the use of medication. Ask your doctor what he recommends.
Some side effects of ART medication can be worse when pregnant, such as high blood sugar, low red blood cell count (anemia) and stress on the kidneys and liver. These side-effects will have to be monitored carefully.
If you’re already on an ART, your doctor might decide to adjust your medication. Don’t stop taking your medication, and get to a doctor as soon as you find out you are pregnant. Stopping treatment without consulting a doctor will increase your viral load, and could increase your chances of transmitting HIV to your baby.
Other ways to ensure a healthy pregnancy, include:
- Making sure that your doctor tests and treats you for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
- Making sure you are tested for hepatitis B, syphilis, group B streptococcus status and rubella immunity.
- Eating well and supplementing your diet with extra nutrients, where necessary.
- Taking a daily prenatal multivitamin
- Taking 1 to 5 milligrams of folic acid once a day for one to three months before getting pregnant and during your pregnancy
- Getting 1,500 milligrams of calcium every day either from foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt or from a supplement
- Reducing or stopping smoking, drinking alcohol and using street drugs.
- Finding healthy ways to deal with stress.
- Going for regular check-ups.