Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) is the most important mode of HIV-1 acquisition among infants and children and it can occur in utero, intrapartum and postnatally through breastfeeding. Great progress has been made in preventing MTCT through use of antiretroviral regimens during gestation, labor/delivery and breastfeeding. The mechanisms of MTCT, however, are multifactorial and remain incompletely understood. This review focuses on select host factors affecting MTCT, in particular genetic factors, coexisting infections, behavioral factors and nutrition. Whereas much emphasis has been placed on decreasing maternal HIV-1 viral load, an important determinant of MTCT, through use of antiretroviral agents, complementary focus on overall maternal health is often neglected. By addressing coinfections in mothers and infants, improving the mother's nutritional status and modifying risky behaviors and practices, not only is maternal and child health improved, but a direct benefit in reducing MTCT can be derived. The study of genetic variations in susceptibility to HIV-1 infection is rapidly evolving, and the future is likely to bring revolutionary changes in HIV-1 prevention by enhancing natural resistance to infection and by individually tailoring pharmacologic regimens.