Marcis is correct the vertical transmission rate is very low 5% or less. This rate is higher if there is hiv co-infection. The baby will test positive for up to the first year because of mothers infection, but this does not been the baby is infected. The child can be tested after the first year of life. You can however find out if the baby is infected before the first year by testing RNA levels which is a RNA PCR test that can be done at 3 and 6 months to confirm results.
The risk of hepatitis C transmission from mother to child is low, about 6%. Hepatitis C is more likely to be transmitted during birth than while the baby is inside the mother.
Women with low levels of the virus in their blood are unlikely to transmit hepatitis C to their baby. Women with high levels of the virus, those with serious liver damage or those in the acute phase of infection, have a higher risk of transmitting hepatitis C to their baby.
A baby born to a mother with hepatitis C will inherit the mother’s antibodies and test antibody positive until the child is about 15–18 months of age. In most cases, the child’s hepatitis C antibodies naturally disappear after 18 months. Therefore, testing a baby for hepatitis C is not recommended until the baby is older than 2 years. In saying this though, infection can be detected by PCR testing as early as 2–3 weeks. So, if parents are concerned they can ask for this to be done after 4–6 weeks, with follow-up testing if negative. For more information on antibody and PCR testing visit the Know your tests page.
Pregnancy is also not considered to cause deterioration of liver disease in women who have hepatitis C.
Women with hepatitis C on treatment (pegylated interferon and ribavirin) are required to use two forms of contraception (one for each partner) to ensure they do not become pregnant during their treatment, and for six months following the end of treatment. This is because pegylated interferon and especially ribavirin can cause birth defects.
There are no confirmed reports of hepatitis C transmission from mother-to-baby by breast milk. Current scientific opinion remains that there is no significant evidence of HCV transmission through breast-feeding. Scientists have found traces of the virus in breast milk and colostrum (the breast fluid produced by the mother in the first few days of breastfeeding) but not enough to transmit hepatitis C. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists currently recommends that breastfeeding should not be discouraged, as no cases of hepatitis C transmission have been documented by this route.
Damage to the breast such as cracked nipples could pose a possible risk to the baby if blood-to-blood contact occurs through small tears or scratches in or around the baby’s mouth. It is recommended that women with hepatitis C who are breastfeeding should express and discard their breast milk while their nipples are cracked. Treat cracked nipples so they do not bleed and seek help from a breastfeeding counsellor or nurse lactation consultant to discuss ways of preventing cracked nipples.
Breast milk supplies a balanced food supply for the baby, as well as protecting the baby from many illnesses especially in the first weeks, however, the final decision whether to breastfeed is entirely up to the mother.
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