Researchers analyzed data from more than 13,000 children in France born between 1994 and 2010 to HIV-infected mothers who took antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy.
Taking the drug zidovudine was associated with a 1.2 percent increased risk for having children with heart defects, while taking efavirenz was associated with a 0.7 percent increased risk for having children with neurological defects, according to the study in the current issue of PLoS Medicine.
However, the researchers found that several other antiretroviral drugs did not increase the risk of birth defects, according to a journal news release.
Overall, the risk of birth defects posed by taking antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy is small, and that risk is far outweighed by the benefits of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, concluded the researcher Jeanne Sibiude at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), and colleagues.
In cases where there are safer alternatives, it might be appropriate to avoid the use of zidovudine and efavirenz, they added.
The study findings should not change prescribing habits, but continued scrutiny of the use of antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy "is critical," Lynne Mofenson, of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and Heather Watts, of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, wrote in an accompanying editorial.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about HIV/AIDS and pregnancy.