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STDs and pregnancy: Get the facts

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 9, 2020.

Pregnant women can be affected by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you're pregnant, here's what you need to know about sexually transmitted infections.

Do you need to be tested for an STI during pregnancy?

An STI during pregnancy can pose serious health risks for you and your baby. As a result, screening for STIs, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B, chlamydia and syphilis, generally takes place at the first prenatal visit for all pregnant women. Gonorrhea and hepatitis C screening tests are recommended at least once during pregnancy for women at high risk of these infections.

Even if you have been tested for an STI in the past, testing again during pregnancy is important. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have symptoms or have engaged in high-risk sexual activity. It's possible to have an STI without symptoms.

How can an STI during pregnancy affect your baby?

STIs during pregnancy can cause many complications. For example:

  • HIV. Pregnant women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy, labor and vaginal delivery, or breast-feeding. However, if HIV is diagnosed before or early in pregnancy, steps can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission.
  • Hepatitis B. The greatest risk of transmission occurs when pregnant women become infected close to delivery. Transmission can be prevented if at-risk infants are treated shortly after birth.
  • Chlamydia. Chlamydia during pregnancy has been linked to preterm labor, premature rupture of the membranes and low birth weight. Chlamydia can be passed from women to their babies during a vaginal delivery. If diagnosed during pregnancy, chlamydia can be successfully treated with an antibiotic.
  • Syphilis. Syphilis during pregnancy has been linked to premature birth, stillbirth and, in some cases, death after birth. Untreated infants have a high risk of complications involving multiple organs.
  • Gonorrhea. Untreated gonorrhea during pregnancy has been linked to premature birth, premature rupture of the membranes and low birth weight. Gonorrhea can be passed to the baby during vaginal delivery.
  • Hepatitis C. Some research suggests that hepatitis C during pregnancy increases the risk of premature birth, small size for gestational age and low birth weight. This type of liver infection can be passed to the baby during pregnancy.

Other effects of an STI on your baby can include:

  • Eye infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood infection
  • Brain damage
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Chronic liver disease

How are STIs treated during pregnancy?

STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotics during pregnancy. STIs caused by viruses, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV, can't be cured.

In some cases, antiviral medications can be used to help reduce the risk of transmitting a viral infection to your baby. If you have HIV, you might need to deliver by C-section.

What can you do to prevent an STI?

There are several ways to reduce your risk of STIs.

  • Abstain from sex. This is the most effective way to avoid STIs.
  • Stay with an uninfected partner. Have sex only with a long-term monogamous partner who isn't infected.
  • Wait and verify. Avoid vaginal and anal intercourse with new partners until you have both been tested for STIs. Oral sex is less risky, but use a latex condom or dental dam — a thin, square piece of rubber made with latex or silicone — to prevent direct contact between the oral and genital mucous membranes.
  • Use condoms and dental dams consistently and correctly. Use a new latex condom or dental dam for each sex act, whether oral, vaginal or anal. Never use an oil-based lubricant, such as petroleum jelly, with a latex condom or dental dam. Condoms made from natural membranes are not recommended because they're not as effective at preventing STIs.

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