STDs and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

If you’re pregnant, one concern you may have is whether you have a sexually transmitted disease, or STD.

Also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that STDs are very common among sexually active women ages 15 to 24 and can have a number of serious consequences for women who become infected.

If you’re concerned about STDs while pregnant, you likely have several questions:

  • What are the effects of an STD during pregnancy?
  • How can an STD affect my baby?
  • Can STDs be treated during pregnancy?
  • How do I know if I have an STD?

How Can an STD Affect My Baby?

There are two primary ways your baby could get infected with STDs(4):

  • The most common form of STD transmission from mother to child is when the baby passes through the birth canal at delivery.
  • However, sometimes pathogens can enter your baby’s body through the placenta during pregnancy.

If you become infected with an STI while pregnant, or if you were already infected before getting pregnant, an STD can be very serious and potentially life-threatening for you and your baby. Some complications may be present at birth, while others may not become evident until months or years later(2).

For you, STDs can increase your risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and long-term infertility, among other serious long-term consequences(3).

In addition, the March of Dimes lists many more possible complications from STDs during pregnancy(4):

  • Premature birth — Classified as any birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • Premature rupture of membranes (PROM) — This is when your amniotic sac breaks early
  • Birth defects — Can affect your child’s growth, development, and cause physical or mental disabilities
  • Miscarriage — This is when your baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy
  • Stillbirth — This is when your baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy

Chlamydia

Women who have chlamydia during pregnancy have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery(5), and ectopic pregnancy(1).

Babies who become infected are at risk of neonatal pneumonia, eye infections, and blindness(3,5).

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy(1), miscarriage, stillbirth, and preterm delivery (1,3,5).

If your baby becomes infected during delivery, he or she could develop eye infections that lead to blindness, as well as joint infections and even life-threatening blood infections(1,3,5).

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis increases your risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Your baby could become infected during vaginal delivery(1,5).

Syphilis

Syphilis can pass from mother to child in utero, resulting in your baby having congenital syphilis or CG(3).

CG can cause fetal or infant death. In addition, children with congenital syphilis are at increased risk of physical and/or mental disabilities(3). It can affect your baby’s brain, eyes, ears, heart, lungs, skin, teeth, and bones(5).

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

In women, it is well-known that HPV can lead to abnormal cervical cells, which can become cervical cancer.

In babies, HPV can cause respiratory problems for children born to infected moms(3). Babies can get congenital warts that may require surgical removal. HPV can also cause complications during delivery(1).

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can be transmitted from mother to child through the placenta 40% of the time. An infected newborn can be a lifelong carrier, and may suffer liver damage(5).

Herpes

Babies most often become infected with herpes from contact with lesions on mom’s genitals during delivery(5).

HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS can pass from mother to child. Once infected, your baby will be HIV-positive for life and require lifelong treatment(5).

Can STDs Be Treated During Pregnancy?

The good news is that many STD treatments are safe during pregnancy.

For example, most STDs that are caused by bacterial infections can be successfully treated with antibiotics that are safe to take while you’re pregnant(2):

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Syphilis
  • Trichomoniasis

If you have chlamydia, your baby will be given medicine at birth to prevent eye infection. He or she will also be monitored for pneumonia.

As with chlamydia, if you have gonorrhea your baby will be given eye medication at birth to reduce risk of eye infection and blindness.

For STDs that come from viruses, it may be safe to take antiviral medications that reduce the risk of passing the disease to your baby(2,5):

  • Genital herpes
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Hepatitis B
  • HIV/AIDS

If you have herpes or HPV, delivering your baby by caesarean section (c-section) will reduce the risk of infecting your baby during birth. In the case of herpes, you may be able to safely take antiviral pills to treat skin lesions before it’s time to deliver. That may make it possible to have a vaginal delivery without infecting your baby. If you have hepatitis B, your baby will receive an injection at birth to reduce his or her risk of becoming infected(5).

How Do I Know If I Have an STD?

Most STDs are asymptomatic in their earliest stages, so you don’t know you’re infected(2). For example, between 80 and 90 percent of chlamydia infections in women and about 80 percent of gonorrhea infections in women are asymptomatic(3).

That’s why the key to a successful outcome for you and your baby is early detection and treatment.

The CDC recommends that all pregnant women get tested for STDs(2):

  • STD testing and treatment should be a key component of your prenatal care plan
  • Get an STD screening as early as possible in your pregnancy
  • The sooner you begin STD treatment, the more successful outcome is possible for you and your baby
  • Continue to get tested for STDs if you are having sex during your pregnancy

How Can I Get Tested for an STD?

If you are pregnant and concerned about STDs, you may be wondering where to get tested for STDs.

You can contact Mosaic at any time to schedule a free STD test.

Along with your free STD screening, we provide free pregnancy testing, limited ultrasound, and options counseling to help with decisions regarding your pregnancy. All services are confidential, free of charge, and provided in a welcoming, nonjudgmental atmosphere.

Sources:

(1) Source: American Pregnancy Association. (2015). Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Pregnancy. Accessed from http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/stds-and-pregnancy/.

(2) Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. (2016). STDs During Pregnancy — CDC Fact Sheet. Accessed from http://www.cdc.gov/std/pregnancy/stdfact-pregnancy.htm.

(3) Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). STDs in Women and Infants. Accessed from http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats14/womenandinf.htm.

(4) Source: March of Dimes. (2013). Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Accessed from  http://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/sexually-transmitted-diseases.aspx.

(5) Source: WebMD. (2016). Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Accessed from http://www.webmd.com/baby/pregnancy-sexually-transmitted-diseases.