Can Your Baby Get Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C and Pregnancy

Pregnant woman

Pregnant women with hepatitis C often have two presiding concerns: whether they will pass the disease onto their babies and whether the pregnancy will compromise their health further. 

While it is possible to spread hepatitis C to a baby through pregnancy through a process known as "vertical transmission," it is a more serious concern with hepatitis B and hepatitis E. However, the risk to babies of mothers with hepatitis C is not zero.

According to the CDC, though, out of 100 infants born to Mothers infected with the hepatitis C virus, four will be born infected. So, it can happen, but it is relatively rare, with the risk of transmission being less than 5 percent.

Certain factors increase the risk of vertical transmission of hepatitis C. For example, the risk increases if the mother is co-infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In addition, women with higher levels of quantitative RNA in their blood have a higher risk of passing the disease onto their babies. Women with hepatitis C RNA greater than 1 million copies/mL have the highest rates of vertical transmission. 

Screening During Childbearing Years

Because the incidence of hepatitis C is rising most rapidly among woman between the ages of 20 and 40, the concern is particularly relevant to women of childbearing age. Women with risk factors for hepatitis C, including those who have had blood transfusions or been exposed to contaminated needles during medical procedures, as well as those who are intravenous drug users, should receive appropriate screening for hepatitis C before and during pregnancy.

Preventing Hepatitis C Transmission During Pregnancy

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent or reduce transmission of hepatitis C to a baby during pregnancy. Decreasing rates of infection among women of childbearing age is the only way to prevent babies from being born with the disease altogether.


Women who are already infected and planning a pregnancy should be cared for by a specialist who will monitor their liver function tests regularly and control the disease as well as possible to protect her health during the pregnancy. 

A pregnant woman with hepatitis will need to be followed by a specialist who can check their liver function tests on a regular basis.

Hepatitis C Medications and Pregnancy

Women taking medications for hepatitis C should discuss changes to their treatment protocols during pregnancy as many of the available treatments may be more dangerous to an unborn baby than the disease itself.

For example, not enough is known about how interferon therapy affects a fetus or the long-term effects it may have on a child born after exposure. And women taking Rebetron (interferon and ribavirin combination therapy) should be advised not to become pregnant or breastfeed while taking the drug and for up to six months after ending treatment because it is known to cause a high risk of birth defects.

The Good News About Pregnancy and Hepatitis C

Despite the inability to prevent vertical transmission of hepatitis C, research shows that babies born with hepatitis C tend to do very well as newborns and through the first years of life. Also, it is considered safe for infected mothers to breastfeed their babies, although women who are HCV-infected and find themselves with cracked or bleeding nipples should abstain from breastfeeding until this is resolved.


Viral Hepatitis C. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. March 7, 2008.

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