Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) pose a serious risk to the health of an expecting woman’s pregnancy, particularly if left untreated. Luckily, most STIs are caught at the first prenatal screening, as the doctor will test for a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, chlamydia, and syphilis, as many STIs go untreated if a woman isn’t showing symptoms.
Your doctor may also recommend testing for gonorrhea or hepatitis C during if you have been promiscuous prior to or during pregnancy.
If a woman is sexually active throughout her pregnancy, particularly if she has multiple partners, then she runs the risk of contracting an STI.
The later the trimester, the more harmful an STI can be to the pregnancy. Therefore, it’s important to get regularly tested for STIs if there’s a chance you could contract one during pregnancy.
Even though STIs pose scan pose a serious health risk to a pregnancy, many times they can be easily treated, especially the earlier they’re detected. Being honest with your healthcare provider about your sexual history is important in any situation, but particularly during a prenatal check-up. This is the best way to ensure the health of both yourself and the fetus.
Knowing If You Have An STI
Symptoms vary depending on the type of STI, however, there are some general signs to watch out for that may indicate something is wrong. The signs of STIs typically include:
- Bumps or sores near mouth, sexual organs
- Swelling of the sexual organs
- Pain urinating or having sex
- Aches, fevers, or chills
- Loose stool
- Itchiness in the sexual organs
- A skin rash without pain
- Discharge from the vagina or penis
- Night sweats
How Different STIs Affect Pregnancy
Every STI is different, especially in terms of symptoms and risks. Even if a fetus doesn’t develop side effects in the womb, it can occur post-birth. Uncommon but serious complications in infants due to sexually transmitted diseases may include eye infection, pneumonia, blood infection, deafness, blindness, brain damage, or chronic liver disease.
But with proper intervention and treatment, most STIs be prevented from passing to the baby from their mother. As such, it’s important to understand the complications that could arise during pregnancy as a result of different STIs, and even more, to be honest with your doctor about your sexual history, particularly if you’ve ever engaged in high-risk activity.
Hepatitis B: A pregnant mother is most likely to transmit this STI to her infant close to delivery, but it can easily be prevented with the proper treatment. It can specifically cause problems for the liver of both the mother and infant.
Gonorrhea: If left untreated, gonorrhea may cause premature birth, low birth weight, and rupture of the membranes. It can be passed specifically through vaginal delivery.
HIV: It is possible for women to pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy and also during labour and breastfeeding. Though there is no cure for HIV, steps can be taken to prevent the transmission of the virus from mother to baby, but this involves taking precautions ahead of time, as early as possible.
Herpes: Herpes can transfer to an infant during labour and may cause health problems for the child later on. A doctor will likely recommend a c-section in cases of herpes.
Chlamydia: Chlamydia is most likely to be passed to an infant during a vaginal delivery. Pregnancy complications associated with this STI include preterm labour, low birth weight, or premature rupture of the membranes. If caught ahead of delivery, chlamydia can be successfully treated with an antibiotic.
Hepatitis C: This STI may cause premature birth, low birth weight, and small gestational size, and it can be passed to the baby during pregnancy.
Syphilis: Syphilis is easily passed from mother to infant. It can cause premature birth as well as problems with various organs, including the heart, teeth, brain, eyes and ears.
HPV/ Genital Warts: The hormones experienced during pregnancy may cause genital warts to grow larger, obstructing the birth canal. A doctor will likely recommend a c-section in these situations.
How To Treat STIs During Pregnancy
Each STI will call for a different course of treatment, and upon receiving a positive diagnosis, your doctor will tell you the steps you need to take to protect your health as well as the health of your unborn baby.
In general, many sexually transmitted diseases can be cured through anti-biotics, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. In other cases, however, there is no cure, though there are options to prevent the spread of the STI from the mother to baby. Such STIs include hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
A doctor may prescribe an anti-viral medication, for instance, to reduce the risk of transmission. A c-section may also be recommended, as vaginal births increase the likelihood of transfer.
Avoiding STIs During Pregnancy: Is It Possible?
There are various steps pregnant women can and should take in order to safeguard their prenatal health against STIs. The number one way to prevent infection is to have safe sex by utilizing contraceptives such as condoms and dental dams.
Many women may assume pregnancy is the time to have unprotected sex, since there is no risk of pregnancy, but risk of STIs is still possible. It’s also not effective to only have oral sex rather than intercourse, as STI transmission is possible during both types of sex. Therefore, practicing safe sex throughout pregnancy is recommended.
Additionally, minimizing the number of sexual partners one has or asking a partner to take a test to verify their STI status are also effective ways to reduce the likelihood of transmission.
Alternatively, pregnant women can choose to abstain from sex while expecting, which puts their risk of contracting an STI at zero. However, if precautions are taking to practice safe sex, then there should be no reason a pregnant woman needs to celibate if she doesn’t want to in the first place.
However, there’s nothing shameful in contracting an STI. It happens to many men and women, even those that take steps to practice safe sex.
It’s important to seek treatment for an STI as soon as possible, but this is all the more important when it comes to pregnancy, since STIs pose a significant risk to the life of the fetus.
If you are at risk of exposure to STIs or believe you may have one, it’s best to get tested as soon as possible in order to keep treatment options open.
Source: WebMD, Mayo Clinic, CDC