for Veterans and the Public
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: If one of the partners in a couple has hepatitis C, what's the risk to a baby if they try to get pregnant?
The most important consideration for couples wanting children when one partner has hepatitis C is the timing of drug treatment. One of the drugs used to treat hepatitis C (ribavirin) can cause severe birth defects in the baby. This is true whether it is the man or woman being treated with ribavirin. If either partner is taking ribavirin, the couple must use two effective forms of birth control to avoid a pregnancy. For example: the man uses a condom, and the woman uses a diaphragm or birth control pills.
A hepatitis C-positive man or woman who wants to have a child can:
- Put off treatment until childbearing is complete.
- Undergo treatment first, and continue to use birth control for 6 months after the last dose of ribavirin before trying to conceive a child.
The baby's risk of becoming infected with hepatitis C in the womb varies, depending on whether the parent with hepatitis C is the father or the mother.
If the mother is infected, whether or not the father is infected, there is a 1 in 25 chance that the baby will be born with hepatitis C. The risk is the same regardless of whether the birth occurs by vaginal delivery or by cesarean section. The risk is higher if the mother is also HIV infected.
If the father has hepatitis C but the mother does not, the baby cannot become infected because a father cannot pass the virus directly to a baby. If the father first passes the virus to the mother through sex, then the baby possibly could be infected by the mother. However, the chance of the virus being transmitted both from father to mother and then from mother to baby is almost zero.
Testing for hepatitis C in a newborn should be performed at 8-12 weeks of age. Approximately 1 in 5 infants will clear the infection without any medical help. For those who become chronically infected, most have no symptoms (but their lab tests will show abnormal liver enzymes).
Liver disease tends to progress more slowly in children infected with hepatitis C than in people who are infected with the virus later in life. Children also respond slightly better than adults to treatment.