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Hepatitis C and pregnancy: Read this if you’re planning to conceive

Fact Checked

a child kissing her mother's womb

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  • According to the CDC, 6 out of every 100 infants born to mothers with hepatitis C will become infected with the virus. However, if the mother is also infected with HIV, this risk increases
  • Unlike the hepatitis B blood test, HCV screening is not routinely offered to all pregnant women. Let your midwife or obstetrician know that you have certain risk factors, so they can offer you the blood test

Many women who become infected with hepatitis C usually hesitate to become pregnant because they believe they might pass on their infection to their unborn child. To help you understand how HCV may affect you or your infant, here are some basic facts you need to know.

There is a risk of passing on hepatitis C during pregnancy

According to the CDC, 6 out of every 100 infants born to mothers with hepatitis C will become infected with the virus. However, if the mother is also infected with HIV, this risk increases.1 The chances of passing on hepatitis C to your baby can also depend on how much of the virus you have in your system.2

A 2018 study notes that in the U.S. and in Europe, the prevalence of HCV acquired through vertical transmission — mother to child — is 0.2% to 0.4%.3 In a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, it’s said that at least 4,000 newborn babies every year get the infection from their mothers — it is the leading cause of hepatitis C infection during childhood.4 The good news is that being infected will not have any negative effects on the course of the pregnancy.5

Normal versus caesarean: Does the method of delivery affect the risk?

Some HCV-positive mothers fear that undergoing normal delivery many put their infant at high risk of getting infected, and opt for scheduled caesarean delivery instead. But this is not necessary, as there is no evidence that undergoing caesarean can reduce the risk of transmission of hepatitis C.6

After examining 18 studies from 1947 to 2012, researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University found that there is no clear connection between the delivery method and the risk of passing on the virus. The researchers did point out, however, that there were a few limitations in the studies, such as their small sample sizes and methodology drawbacks.7

So, in order to assess your risk, it is advisable to undergo screening before childbirth — or better yet, even before you become pregnant.

Consult your physician about hepatitis C screening

A study from the CDC found that the rates of HCV in women of childbearing age have increased between 2011 and 2014.8 This makes it all the more important to know if you have this potentially damaging ailment. Since it does not exhibit symptoms during the early stages, many women are usually unaware that they have the virus.

Note that there are certain factors that may increase your risk of hepatitis C, including using intravenous drugs, having tattoos done in unsanitary establishments and having intercourse with someone with HCV infection.9 If any of these risk factors apply to you, then you should consider having a hepatitis C blood test done.

Unlike the hepatitis B blood test, HCV screening is not routinely offered to all pregnant women.10 However, let your midwife or obstetrician know that you may have these risk factors, so they can offer you the blood test. This will help put your mind at ease. If the test does reveal that you are an HCV carrier, your doctor will help you come up with a plan for other scenarios, such as breastfeeding.

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Breastfeeding if you have hepatitis C

You may become hesitant to breastfeed because of your hepatitis C infection, which is unfortunate, as breastfeeding is the best and most nutritionally dense food for babies. But don’t worry — researchers have found that there is no significant evidence that HCV can be transferred via breastmilk.11 However, if you are experiencing symptoms of HCV, which means you have a high viral load, it may be safer to hold off breastfeeding. If you’re asymptomatic, breastfeeding should not be an issue.12

The case is different, however, if you have HIV. If you have both HCV and HIV, then breastfeeding may not be advisable. If you also experience a flare-up and jaundice after your baby has been born, you should avoid breastfeeding.13

Be aware that there are instances when breastfeeding may pose a possible risk. For example, if you have cracked nipples and your baby has scratches or small tears around his mouth, blood to blood contact may occur. In this case, you should discard the breastmilk and avoid breastfeeding until your nipple cracks and your baby’s wounds have both completely healed.14

MORE ABOUT HEPATITIS C

Hepatitis C: Introduction

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C in Pregnancy

How Do You Get Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C Duration

Is Hepatitis C Contagious?

Hepatitis C Causes

Hepatitis C Types

Hepatitis C Symptoms

Hepatitis C Treatment

Hepatitis C Prevention

Hepatitis C Diet

Hepatitis C FAQ

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