STDs During Pregnancy
At Childbirth Graphics, our goal is to provide educators, like you, with essential teaching tools to help you promote the healthiest babies and families as possible. That’s why we offer educational materials to help women understand the importance of proper prenatal care as well as potential hazards that can affect pregnancy and the health of both mother and baby
Among the potential hazards that can affect a pregnancy and developing baby are sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Read on to learn more about how sexually transmitted diseases can affect a baby’s health and to discover a few of our pregnancy hazards educational materials that are perfect to explain the risks of STDs during pregnancy.
What Is a Sexually Transmitted Disease?
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)—also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—are a group of infections that are passed by sexual contact. Most STDs are caused by either viruses or bacteria. Some STDs often have no symptoms, so it is important that all pregnant women work with their healthcare professional follow the recommended screening guidelines for STDs.
How Can an STD Affect Pregnancy?
STDs can cause serious pregnancy complications for the expectant mother and her baby. STDs can cause miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and premature birth, as well as newborn illness and death. The good news is that if an STD is detected, usually steps can be taken to protect the baby.
discusses the risks posed by STDs during Pregnancy.
How Can an STD Affect a Baby?
Mother-to-baby transmission of STDs often occurs during vaginal delivery. Some STDs can cross the placenta, and a few STDs can be transmitted through breastfeeding. Some of the problems babies can experience from STDs include:
- Premature birth
- Low birthweight
- Brain damage
- Lack of coordination
- Sepsis (infection in the bloodstream)
- Meningitis (infection of the spinal fluid and fluid surrounding the brain)
- Liver disease, including hepatitis and cirrhosis
Can STDs Be Prevented?
The surest way to prevent transmission of STDs is not to have sex. Another sure way is to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is not infected. If you do have sex, use a new condom every time you have sex. Use a male condom made of latex, or use a male polyurethane if allergic to latex. Female (internal) condoms also help protect against STDs when used for vaginal sex.
No condom is 100% effective in preventing all STDs. Some STDs are spread by skin-to-skin contact, and if the infected area is not covered by the condom, that STD can still be transmitted—even when condoms are used.
Vaccines are available to protect against the STDs HPV and hepatitis B.
HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, destroys the body’s ability to fight infection. Although HIV cannot be cured, it can be managed to prevent progression to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Pregnant women with HIV can transmit the virus to their babies during pregnancy, at birth, or through breastfeeding. If a pregnant woman with HIV follows appropriate treatment guidelines, her baby’s risk of contracting HIV can be dramatically reduced.
Herpes is a common virus transmitted by sexual contact. Most people who have genital herpes are unaware they are infected, but those who do have symptoms generally have one or more blisters or sores in their genital area. Herpes can be transmitted to a baby during delivery. Women who are experiencing herpes symptoms often have a cesarean delivery to protect the baby from herpes transmission.
provides information about how STDs can affect pregnancy.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and is the primary cause of cervical cancer. HPV usually does not cause any visible symptoms, but some strains of HPV can cause genital warts. Genital warts can sometimes interfere with a vaginal delivery, making a cesarean birth necessary. Rarely, a baby born to a woman with HPV will have an infection that causes lesions on the vocal cords, a condition that can be treated.
Syphilis is a bacterial STD that can be transmitted by sexual contact. Syphilis can cross the placenta and infect a fetus. A pregnant woman with syphilis can receive treatment during pregnancy to protect her baby from infection. The infection can be treated with antibiotics, but if syphilis remains untreated, it can be deadly to a fetus or infant. To learn more about syphilis during pregnancy, click here.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are STDs caused by bacteria and can be transmitted by oral, anal, or vaginal sex. They often cause no symptoms and can be treated with antibiotics. However, if they remain untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause an increased risk of miscarriage, premature rupture of the membranes (bag of waters), and premature delivery. They also may be transmitted to a baby during a vaginal delivery, leading to infections and other problems.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is one of several types of viral hepatitis and the type most likely to be transmitted by sexual activity. A hepatitis vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B infection. The virus can be transmitted from mother to baby during birth. All pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B. An infected newborn can become a life-long carrier of hepatitis B and eventually develop fatal liver disease. Fortunately, babies born to mothers with hepatitis B will receive a series of shots in addition to the hepatitis vaccine to prevent hepatitis B infection. It is recommended that all babies be vaccinated against hepatitis B.
Trichomoniasis is a parasitic infection that can be transmitted by sexual contact. It can be treated with medication. Pregnant women with trichomoniasis may have an increased risk of premature delivery and premature rupture of the membranes (bag of waters).
emphasizes STD testing at the first prenatal visit.
Can Bacterial Vaginosis Affect Pregnancy?
Bacterial vaginosis is a mild vaginal infection caused by an overabundance of a type of bacteria. Although it is not a sexually transmitted infection, it is more common in women who are sexually active. Pregnant women with bacterial vaginosis are at risk for premature delivery. These women are often treated with antibiotics to reduce this risk.
Can STDs Affect Breastfeeding?
Women who have an STD should talk to their and their baby’s healthcare professional about whether breastfeeding will be complicated by the STD. It is recommended that women in the United States with HIV not breastfeed.
If you have any questions about how STDs might affect your pregnancy and baby, talk to your healthcare professional.
To learn more about Childbirth Graphics’ educational resources that are great teaching tools covering STDs and other hazards to pregnancy, please visit our Pregnancy Hazards Section.
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