How STDs Can Affect Your Baby and Pregnancy
Some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can affect a fetus during pregnancy or a baby during childbirth. It is important to know your sexual health status and to get treatment, as the following STDs can harm not only you, but also the health of your baby.
Genital herpes can result in lesions or sores around the vaginal region and on the vulva or cervix.
How can genital herpes affect your pregnancy and your baby?
Typically during a pregnancy, genital herpes does not harm the fetus, but during childbirth/delivery the baby is at risk and precautions must be taken. If the mother has active genital lesions during childbirth, the highly contagious virus can infect the baby. If the baby contracts the virus during birth, it can affect the skin, eyes, mouth, central nervous system, and/or even spread to internal organs via disseminated disease which can cause organ failure and lead to death. Disseminated diseases that result can include hepatitis, pneumonitis, disseminated intravascular coagulation, or a combination, with or without encephalitis or skin disease. To prevent transmission to the infant, doctors will perform a C-section (cesarean section) delivery in these cases. Treatment of lesions during pregnancy involves antiviral medication.
After delivery, breastfeeding is safe unless there is a herpes lesion or sore on the breast.
Oral herpes is very contagious and can be lethal if passed to infants. Since most view cold sores as simply a nuisance and not a sexually transmitted disease, cold sores can often be overlooked as dangerous to newborns. Don’t allow anyone with an active outbreak to kiss your newborn!
Gonorrhea is often asymptomatic, but when symptoms are present they can include painful urination, unusual vaginal discharge, fever, vomiting and stomach pain.
How can gonorrhea affect your pregnancy and your baby?
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that can be spread from mother to baby during delivery. If left untreated, pregnant women with gonorrhea have an increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth. Babies born while the mother is infected can get eye infections that may lead to blindness. They may also develop joint infections or potentially deadly blood infections. All newborns are given medication at birth to prevent eye infection. Gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics, so pregnant women can be treated for gonorrhea during pregnancy.
Chlamydia often does not show symptoms, but when it does they include painful urination, unusual discharge, fever, pelvic pain, and nausea.
How can chlamydia affect your pregnancy and your baby?
Similarly to gonorrhea, chlamydia can increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth. It can also cause eye infections or even pneumonia in newborns. Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics during pregnancy. The medication newborns are given at birth to prevent gonorrhea infections of the eye also prevents chlamydia eye infections.
Syphilis is sometimes misdiagnosed or assumed to be the flu. The infection can present itself as a sore or chancre on the vulva, vagina, cervix, anus or rectum. If left untreated, syphilis can lead to organ damage and eventually death.
How can syphilis affect your pregnancy and your baby?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is very harmful to infants and unborn babies. It can cause a mother to miscarry or the baby to be stillborn. Syphilis can easily be transmitted to a fetus and can cause serious or even fatal infections. This bacterium can be transmitted to the baby in the birth canal or can transfer to the fetus from the placenta. Infants with congenital syphilis are often born prematurely and if left untreated, syphilitic babies will likely develop serious issues in internal organs like the heart, brain, skin, eyes, ears, bones and teeth. Syphilis can be treated during pregnancy with antibiotics to both decrease the risk of spreading it to the baby and stop the infection’s progression in the mother.
Primary syphilis chancres (sores) most frequently appear on the genitals, but can also occur on the fingers, mouth, lips, tongue, tonsils, anus and breasts and nipples. If a chancre is present on the breast and/or nipple, mothers should not breastfeed.
HIV is a viral STD with no known cure that is characterized by long-lasting flu-like symptoms. HIV weakens the immune system by attacking CD4+ and T-Cells, making it difficult for the body to fight off infection and disease.
How can HIV affect your pregnancy and your baby?
With treatment, the likelihood of transmitting HIV to a newborn during childbirth drops to 2 percent; when left untreated the virus has a 25 percent chance of being spread to the baby.
Hepatitis B is an incurable viral liver infection. Approximately 70 percent of cases are symptomless. Hepatitis B symptoms can include flu-like symptoms– fever, fatigue, nausea, dark urine and jaundice.
How can hepatitis B affect your pregnancy and your baby? A baby can become infected with hepatitis B during childbirth if the mother carries the virus. Infected newborns can develop liver disease from hepatitis B, which is sometimes fatal. Doctors will vaccinate newborns born to Hepatitis B-positive mothers with antibodies to protect them from infection.
Hepatitis C is an incurable viral liver infection. Hepatitis C symptoms can include flu-like symptoms– fever, fatigue, nausea, dark urine and jaundice.
How can hepatitis C affect your pregnancy and your baby? Hepatitis C can be transmitted from an infected mother to her baby during delivery. The rate of hepatitis C transmission from mother to child is 1 in 20. Currently, there is no vaccine or other way to help prevent the baby from contracting hepatitis C at birth. If a child gets hepatitis C at birth, their health (especially liver health) will need to be monitored. One in four children will clear the virus on their own; the remaining will become carriers of the virus.
Trichomoniasis is a parasitic bacterial sexually transmitted infection that causes painful urination and unusual vaginal discharge.
How can trichomoniasis affect your pregnancy and your baby? Trichomoniasis can lead to prematurely born babies. While it is rare for a newborn to contract the infection during delivery, it is possible. Pregnant women can be treated for trichomoniasis with antibiotics during pregnancy to cure the infection.
HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
HPV causes genital warts and is a very common STD with numerous viral strains, some of which can lead to cervical cancer.
How can HPV affect your pregnancy and your baby? When developed during pregnancy, HPV treatment is often delayed until after delivery of the baby. Sometimes genital warts can grow due to pregnancy hormones; if they grow big enough to obstruct the birth canal, the baby may have to be delivered via cesarean section.
In very rare cases, a mother can pass HPV to her baby during childbirth. An extremely small number of these infants develop a condition that causes tumors to grow in the throat called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP). These tumors are surgically removed, but often come back.
It is important to know whether or not you have any of these STDs, so that you can keep you and your baby healthy and protected. The quicker you can treat any of these STDs, the better off you and your baby will be.
Medically Reviewed by Dr. J. Frank Martin Jr, MD on September 27, 2018
Author: Nick Corlis
Nick Corlis is a writer, marketer, and designer. He graduated from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, with a degree in Digital Communications. Nick is proud to be able to help eliminate the stigma of STD testing through his writing and is always trying to advocate the importance of your sexual health. Before STDcheck, his favorite way to develop his writing skills was by accepting various writing jobs in college and maintaining multiple blogs. Nick wears many hats here at STDcheck, but specifically enjoys writing accurate, well-researched content that is not only informative and relatable but sometimes also contains memes. When not writing, Nick likes to race cars and go-karts, eat Japanese food, and play games on his computer.