Treatments for HIV have come a long way. While HIV was once guaranteed to be fatal, advances in antiretroviral medications used to treat HIV have allowed people to live full lives after acquiring HIV. In addition to treatment, medical advances have now made it possible for people to almost completely prevent acquiring it in the first place. This new treatment approach is called HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is commonly referred to as PrEP.
One of the population groups that can benefit most from PrEP are pregnant women. Pregnant women are at an elevated risk of acquiring HIV, and it can be passed to the baby while pregnant or breastfeeding. If you're planning on becoming pregnant in the near future or are already pregnant, you should consider asking your doctor about PrEP. To understand why, read on to learn more about how PrEP works and why it's helpful for pregnant women.
How Does PrEP Work?
PrEP is a medication that you take once a day, and it prevents HIV from replicating within your body. HIV requires specific enzymes in order to make more copies of itself. PrEP specifically targets these enzymes and destroys them. Viruses, including HIV, need to replicate extremely quickly in order to make you ill. Without the ability to replicate, they're rendered harmless.
PrEP needs to build up in your bloodstream first before it's effective — you need to take it for around a month before you achieve full protection against HIV. You also need to continue taking it for around a month after your last potential HIV exposure in order to make sure it's still preventing HIV from replicating in your body.
Why Is PrEP Helpful for Pregnant Women?
Pregnancy weakens your immune system, which means you're much more likely to become infected with HIV if you're exposed to it while you're pregnant. While HIV is normally transmitted sexually, there are other ways to be exposed — if you work in a hospital, you may expose yourself to HIV by accidentally sticking yourself with a needle that was used to draw blood from an HIV-positive patient beforehand. Taking PrEP while you're pregnant makes it extremely unlikely any exposure will result in you becoming infected with HIV, which counteracts the increased susceptibility to HIV that you have while you're pregnant.
Taking PrEP also helps protect your baby. HIV in your bloodstream can cross through the placenta and infect your baby while you're pregnant, so there's a risk that you'll transmit HIV to your baby if you become infected. Babies can also become infected during childbirth, as they're exposed to HIV-containing body fluids like blood when they're born. HIV is also present in breast milk, so you can transmit HIV to your baby if you're HIV-positive and breastfeeding. Taking PrEP during pregnancy to prevent HIV will minimize the risk that your baby will be infected with HIV through any of these routes.
If you feel that you're at high risk of acquiring HIV and you're pregnant or planning to become so soon, talk to your doctor about HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is safe during pregnancy and is also safe while you're breastfeeding, and the risk of side effects is very low. If your doctor is unfamiliar with PrEP, you also have the option of talking to a telemedicine doctor online. These doctors will give you advice on how to use PrEP safely, write you a prescription and then send you a supply in the mail. Regardless of the route you choose, it's a good idea to make sure your baby is as protected as possible from HIV infection by taking PrEP during pregnancy if feel that you're at risk of being exposed to HIV.