Back to contents

HIV testing for babies and children

It is very important that children born to HIV-positive women are tested for HIV. Ideally, this should happen at birth (see below). But if this didn’t happen, and the child’s mother was, or thinks she might have been, HIV-positive at the time the child was born, they should be tested whatever their age because of the risk of mother-to-child transmission. If you are HIV-positive it is very important that your child, or children, are all tested for HIV whatever their age.

Although it can be painful and worrying knowing that a child has a serious illness, potentially life-saving treatment and care can only be provided if it’s known that your child has HIV. Once you know about your child’s diagnosis, you can be offered support by a variety of services to help your child have a long and healthy life.

The type of test used will depend on the age of your child.

HIV testing in babies

If you and your healthcare team know that you’re HIV-positive, your baby will be tested at birth to see if he or she has been infected with HIV. An HIV viral load test will be used. This test looks for the presence of the virus in the blood. This test will be repeated after six weeks and again after twelve weeks.

If there is no trace of HIV after twelve weeks then you can be confident that your baby is not infected with HIV. However, it’s important that you bottle feed your baby formula milk, as it’s still possible for a mother to pass on HIV to her baby by breastfeeding, because HIV is present in breast milk. Help is available to meet the costs of paying for formula milk.

The HIV antibody test is not used to diagnose HIV in babies and young infants. This is because antibodies can cross the placenta from mother to infant and be present in the baby’s blood for up to 18 months after he or she is born. A negative HIV antibody test result for your baby at 18 months of age is the final test that is done to confirm that the baby is not infected.

HIV testing for children aged 18 months and over

By the age of 18 months, if there are any HIV antibodies present in a child, this will be because the child is infected with HIV. Therefore if your child is aged 18 months or older, the test used to diagnose HIV will be the HIV antibody test.

Almost all mothers in the UK will have an HIV test in pregnancy. If for any reason this was not done and a woman or her child is later found to have HIV then if the woman has other children, they should also have an HIV test. It is very important to have older children tested for HIV if you discover that you are HIV-positive. Sadly, there have been cases of children dying of HIV because they were not diagnosed soon enough for life-saving treatment and care to be provided. Do not be afraid of telling your HIV clinic that you would like your children to be tested. HIV services will offer the same confidential service to children who are being tested for HIV as they do to adults and will offer you support regardless of the test result.

HIV & children

Published January 2010

Last reviewed January 2010

Next review December 2013

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.