Women with chronic hepatitis C have a very low risk of transmitting hepatitis C to their baby while pregnant or during birth (less than 5% chance). However, it is important your doctor or midwife is aware you have hepatitis C in order to monitor your health and minimise the risk of infecting your baby.
There is an increased risk of transmission when the mother is:
• In the acute (newly acquired) stage of hepatitis C infection
• Co-infected with HIV.
There is debate about whether hepatitis C is transmitted to a baby during the pregnancy or at birth. In order to minimise the risk of transmission during delivery, the use of forceps, vacuum and scalp electrodes should be avoided if possible, as these can break the baby’s skin, possibly allowing blood-to-blood contact to occur between mother and baby.
Hepatitis C infection does not usually cause any problems for you or your unborn baby during pregnancy. Some side effects of pregnancy are more noticeable in women with hepatitis C, such as pregnancy itch, which is a side effect of the extra stress the liver is under during pregnancy.
Breastfeeding does not increase the risk of mother to baby transmission of hepatitis C. Although very low concentrations of hepatitis C can be detected in breast milk, this is rapidly destroyed in the baby’s stomach. The only situation where breastfeeding may carry a potential risk of transmission is when the mother has cracked or bleeding nipples.
No. You won’t be able to have the standard medicines that are used to treat hepatitis C, as it is not safe for your unborn baby.
For more information read our ‘Baby talk‘ article from issue 6 of Talking Hep C.