Mother to Child Transmission and Pregnancy
Last updated: February 2022
In this article, a community advocate discusses transmission risks for a mother to pass hepatitis C onto their child while pregnant, and precautions expecting parents can take to reduce virus transmission.
Hepatitis C will not directly impact your ability to become pregnant. However, the medication used to treat or cure hepatitis C and many of the virus’ side effects is not safe to use while pregnant. Typically, your doctor will recommend that you use multiple methods of protection during the use of this medication, including birth control, condoms, or abstinence.
In addition, if your male partner is being treated for hepatitis C, you should also use multiple methods of birth control, as a pregnancy could still become complicated. If you do become pregnant while you or your partner is using hepatitis C medication, it is vital that you speak with your doctor right away to discuss your medical treatment plan. Do not alter your current medication regimen on your own, however, as this can lead to medical complications.
Will my baby be at risk
It is estimated that, for every 100 infants who are born to hepatitis C infected women, 4-6 of babies become infected with the virus. This risk goes up if the mother also has HIV. One of the best ways to prevent your baby from becoming exposed to your blood is to make sure your labor and delivery team are aware of your hepatitis C status.
This is important because it can change the way your baby is monitored during the delivery process. In some typical delivery experiences, the baby is monitored using scalp monitors. These can cause small head abrasions on the baby. In typical circumstances, the abrasions are tiny and unimportant. However, for a mother with hepatitis C, these abrasions can create enough exposure to the mother’s blood that they should be avoided.
Some believe that a caesarian section can cause an increased risk of hepatitis C for a newborn, however, this has not been proven, nor has there been any definitive proof that a caesarian section is less risky.
How can I avoid hep C while pregnant?
If you have already been exposed to the hepatitis C virus or if you are regularly coming into contact with the blood of someone with hepatitis C or with one or more people whose blood may be infected, you may have already contracted the virus.
You can discuss your exposure with your doctor and decide together whether it makes medical sense for you to be tested. However, if you have not been exposed or if you test negative for exposure, you can take extra precautions to remain hepatitis C negative. These steps are known as universal precautions. They include using gloves and a mask if you are in contact with blood or blood products, getting tattoos only from licensed tattoo shops and artists, and using clean needles if you use IV drugs.
If you are an IV drug user who needs help minimizing your drug use or if you wish to stop using IV drugs, speak with your doctor or contact your local clinic. There are licensed professionals who can work with you to help you reach your goals during and after your pregnancy.
I have hepatitis C and I recently gave birth, does my baby have hepatitis C?
If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, make sure to let your doctor know, as well as any medical professionals you interact with during your pregnancy, during your birthing experience, and at your baby’s medical check-ups. This helps doctors to monitor your body’s health through the pregnancy process as well as to provide you with information regarding ways you can protect your baby from becoming exposed to the virus.
If you are breastfeeding and have cracked nipples, your baby could be at risk. It is not known how often hepatitis C transmission from mother to child occurs, however any open wounds or sores on your body will expose your baby to your blood, which can put them at risk for contracting the hepatitis C virus. This is why doctors typically recommend against breastfeeding if you have sore or cracked nipples. However, your doctor may be able to recommend creams or other salves to heal your nipples, which would allow you again to breastfeed your baby without concern. Your doctor may even recommend that you pump your milk and feed the baby through a bottle, so your baby can continue to drink your milk while your nipples are cracked, though some recommend not doing this until there are no sores or cracks on the nipples.
If your baby has already been exposed, the doctor may decide to test your baby for the hepatitis C virus. This will likely not happen until the baby is at least 18 months old. This is because earlier ages may not show the virus, leading earlier tests to sometimes be inconclusive or to show a false result.
If the baby tests positive at 18 months old, it is recommended that time be given for the baby’s body to try to clear the virus on its own, which can prevent giving the child unnecessary medications. If the baby still tests positive at age 3, the doctor will likely begin to discuss medication intervention with the parent(s).1-7