Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases, commonly called STDs, are infections that are spread by having sex with someone who has a STD. You can get a sexually transmitted disease from sexual activity that involves the mouth, anus, or vagina.
STDs are serious illnesses that require treatment, regardless of whether or not you are pregnant. But when you are pregnant, you are not the only one at risk; many STDs can be especially harmful to you and your baby. Some STDs, like HIV/AIDS, cannot be cured and may be deadly.
Your health care provider will likely screen for some STDs at your first prenatal visit, but if you have sex with someone who might be infected, you will need to be screened at subsequent appointments and treated. If you suspect you have been exposed to a STD, be sure to tell your doctor immediately. Fast treatment is the best way to protect you and your baby.
What Are the Symptoms of STDs?
Sometimes, there are no symptoms of a STD. If symptoms are present, they may include:
- Bumps, sores, or warts near the mouth, anus, penis, or vagina
- Swelling or redness near the penis or vagina
Skin rash with or without pain
Weight loss, loose stool, night sweats
- Aches, pains, fever, and chills
- Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
- Discharge from the penis or vagina (vaginal discharge may have an odor)
- Bleeding from the vagina other than during a monthly period
- Severe itching near the penis or vagina
How Can STDs Affect My Pregnancy?
STDs in pregnancy can harm you and your developing baby, depending on the type of infection.
HIV/AIDS: Thanks to the creation of powerful medications, transmission of HIV infection to your infant is significantly reduced. But, when the disease is passed on, the results are catastrophic -- the baby may develop HIV infection.
Herpes infection in a pregnant woman is relatively safe until she gets ready to deliver. Active herpes lesions on the genitals are highly contagious and can infect the infant as he or she is being born. Also, the virus may begin multiplying and become infectious before any skin symptoms appear. Therefore, many women with a herpes outbreak will have a cesarean section to prevent the transmission of herpes to the newborn.
Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea is a very common STD, usually diagnosed by performing a test on a swab of vaginal fluid. If contracted during pregnancy, the infection can cause vaginal discharge, burning while emptying the bladder, or abdominal pain. A pregnant woman with untreated gonorrhea may have an increased risk of miscarriage or preterm delivery. A baby that is born while the mother has an active infection can develop blindness, joint infection, or a life threatening blood infection.
HPV (Genital Warts): This is a very common STD. The genital warts often appear as small cauliflower-like clusters which may burn or itch. If you contract genital warts during pregnancy, treatment may be delayed until after you deliver. Sometimes the hormones from pregnancy can make them grow larger. If they grow large enough to block the birth canal, the baby may need to be delivered by a cesarean section.
Chlamydia: Chlamydia may cause an increased risk of miscarriage and preterm delivery. Newborns who are exposed can get severe eye infections and pneumonia. Make sure you are retested within three months, to be certain the infection is gone, even if your partner has been treated.
Syphilis: Syphilis is most often diagnosed with a blood test, although a syphilitic skin lesion can also be tested. Syphilis is easily passed on to your unborn child. It is likely to cause a very serious infection to your baby that can be fatal. The infants are often premature. Untreated infants that survive tend to develop problems in multiple organs, including the brain, eyes, ears, heart, skin, teeth, and bones.
Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. If a pregnant woman is infected with hepatitis B, she can transmit the infection to her baby through the placenta about 40% of the time. An infected newborn can become a lifelong carrier of hepatitis B leading to liver disease and even death. Luckily, early screening and the more widespread use of the hepatitis B vaccine can prevent infection.
Trichomoniasis: Trichomoniasis is an infection that can cause yellow-green vaginal discharge and pain with sex or when emptying the bladder. It can increase the risk of having a preterm baby. Rarely, the new baby can get the infection during delivery and have a vaginal discharge after birth. Get retested within three months of being treated to make sure the infection is cleared.