Women who are pregnant can become infected with the same sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as women who are not pregnant. Pregnancy does not provide women or their babies any protection against STIs .In fact, the consequences of an STI can be significantly more serious–even life threatening–for a woman and her baby if the woman becomes infected with an STI while she is pregnant. As the list of diseases known to be sexually transmitted continues to grow, it is increasingly important that women be aware of the harmful effects of these diseases and know how to protect themselves and their children against infection.
STIs during pregnancy
STIs can have many of the same consequences for pregnant women as for women who are not pregnant. STIs can cause cervical and other cancers, chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and other complications. Many STIs are silent–or present without symptoms–in women. Among the additional consequences pregnant women may suffer from STIs are early onset of labor, premature rupture of the membranes surrounding the baby in the uterus, and uterine infection after delivery.
Infection from the pregnant woman to her fetus
STIs can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to the fetus, newborn, or infant before, during, or after birth. Some STIs (like syphilis) cross the placenta and infect the fetus during its development. Other STIs (like gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, and genital herpes) are transmitted from the mother to the infant as the infant passes through the birth canal. HIV infection can cross the placenta during pregnancy, infect the newborn during the birth process, and, unlike other STIs, infect an infant as a result of breast–feeding.
STIs affecting the fetus or newborn
Harmful effects on the baby may include stillbirth, low birth weight, conjunctivitis (eye infection), pneumonia, neonatal sepsis (infection in the blood stream), neurologic damage (such as brain damage or motor disorder), congenital abnormalities (including blindness, deafness, or other organ damage), acute hepatitis, meningitis, chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis. Some of these consequences may be apparent at birth, others may not be detected until months or even years later.
Treatment of STI during pregnancy
Bacterial STIs (like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) can be treated and cured with antibiotics during pregnancy. There is no cure for viral STIs such as genital herpes and HIV, but antiviral medication for herpes and HIV may reduce symptoms in the pregnant woman. In addition, the risk of passing HIV infection from mother to baby is dramatically reduced by treatment. For women who have active genital herpes lesions at the time of delivery, a cesarean section may be performed to protect the newborn against infection.
Protection of pregnant women against infection
Although a woman may be monogamous during her pregnancy, she can remain at risk of STIs if her partner is not monogamous. For this reason, she may want to consider consistent and correct use of latex condoms for every act of intercourse. Protection is critical throughout a woman’s pregnancy, including the last trimester when active infection can present a great threat to the health of a woman and her baby.