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Health & Pregnancy

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Understanding STDs in Pregnancy -- Basic Information

HIV continued...

If you are HIV-positive and you do not take any medications to prevent transmission of HIV to your baby, there is a 25% chance that your baby will become infected. But if you take medications before and during childbirth, you can reduce that risk to less than 2%.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the CDC recommend that all pregnant women voluntarily get tested for HIV. If you are infected with HIV, or think that there is even a slight chance you may be, it is vital that you tell your doctor immediately so you can be tested and receive antiviral medication, if needed.


Chlamydia is the most common STD in the Western world. Untreated, it can cause preterm labor, preterm rupture of membranes, and postpartum endometritis (inflammation of the lining of the uterus). Babies who are infected during birth can suffer from pneumonia or conjunctivitis, which can lead to blindness if untreated. Some women have no symptoms while others may notice a vaginal discharge or lower abdominal pain or develop pelvic inflammatory disease. Some may not suspect that they have chlamydia, however, until their partner has symptoms such as trouble urinating and discharge from his penis.

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes can be passed from a mother to her baby during a vaginal delivery. Babies who come in contact with genital herpes can suffer damage to their eyes and central nervous systems. A herpes infection in a newborn can become life-threatening, affecting multiple organ systems rather than only the genitals.

The most dangerous situation occurs if a woman gets infected with herpes for the first time during pregnancy (primary infection), especially near delivery. A primary infection around the time of delivery puts baby at a very high risk of infection — as much as one chance in two. A woman who has been previously infected with the virus before pregnancy can have recurring infections, but the risk of her baby becoming infected in pregnancy and during delivery is very small because there is usually less virus present. Her existing antibodies will have crossed the placenta and help protect the fetus against infection.

Women who become infected for the first time often develop symptoms such as genital lesions, ulcerations, enlargement of lymph nodes, and pain. But women who have had genital herpes in the past don't necessarily exhibit symptoms every time the virus becomes active, even though they are contagious. For months or even years at a time, the virus may be inactive. When the virus becomes active, there may be symptoms such as itching and pain before the outbreak of blister-like sores on or around the genital area, or there may be no symptoms at all.

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