Pregnant women with genital herpes should be careful -- but not overly worried -- about passing the virus on to the baby.
A mother can infect her baby during delivery, sometimes fatally. But if a woman had genital herpes before getting pregnant, or if she is first infected early in pregnancy, the chance that her baby will be infected is very low -- less than 1%. Women with genital herpes are examined carefully for any symptoms before giving birth. If sores or signs that an outbreak is coming show up at the time of delivery, the baby may be delivered by cesarean section (also called a C-section).
The risk of infecting the baby is high (30% to 50%) when a woman is newly infected late in pregnancy, however. That's because the mother's immune system has not developed protective antibodies against the virus. Women with an older herpes infection have antibodies against the virus, which help protect the baby. If you are pregnant and think you may have been infected recently, tell your doctor right away.
Ways to Avoid Getting Herpes While Pregnant
Women who don't have genital herpes should be careful about sex during the third trimester. Unless you know for sure that your partner is herpes free, avoid sex altogether during the third trimester. If your partner gets cold sores (oral herpes), he or she should not perform oral sex on you during this time.
Some doctors think all women should be tested for herpes when they get pregnant, especially if their sex partners have herpes. Ask your doctor if you or your partner should be tested.
Genital Herpes Treatment During Pregnancy
Women taking antiviral drugs for herpes -- either daily suppressive therapy or occasional therapy for outbreaks -- should consult their doctor about whether to take the drugs during pregnancy. The answer is not set in stone: You and your doctor have to discuss the risks and benefits to decide what's right for you.
For pregnant women with a history of genital herpes, the doctor might recommend daily doses of an antiviral medication during the month before her due date.
Herpes infection in a newborn is also serious. Do not allow anyone with a cold sore on the mouth to kiss the baby. If you have a cold sore, don't kiss the baby, and wash hands with soap and water before touching the baby.