How an STD Impacts a Baby in the Womb

How an STD Impacts a Baby in the Womb

Pregnancy is an exciting time, when you feel your baby slowly grow, and your body changes to accommodate your baby’s needs. But if you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD), you may be rightly concerned that the infection could affect your child.

Having an STD while pregnant is more common than you might think. About 12 million new cases of STDs — not including HIV infection — occur every year in the United States. Many more women have an STD and don’t yet know it.

The prevalence of STDs is why STD screening before and during pregnancy is so important. Everything that affects your body affects your growing baby’s body too. If you’re pregnant with an STD, your pregnancy is labeled high risk so that you and your baby get the extra attention and care you need.

Sharon Smith, MD, is a compassionate and expert gynecologist at OBGYN Care in Houston, Texas. If you have an STD and are pregnant or are hoping to become pregnant, here’s what you need to know to keep your baby safe.

Some STDs infect babies in the womb

Unfortunately, some STDs can be passed directly to your baby in the womb. Infections such as syphilis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cross the placental barrier. Without treatment, an STD that infects your baby can cause:

Even if your baby is born healthy, they may develop problems months or years later related to the infection. 

Some STDs are passed during vaginal birth

Not all STDs can cross the placental barrier. But if you deliver your child vaginally, you could pass the infection to your baby through your bodily fluids or active lesions. The STDs that can infect your baby during birth include:

If you have an STD, Dr. Smith may recommend a cesarean section to keep your baby safer. During a C-section, you’re sedated and your baby is removed from the womb through an incision in your abdomen. You stay awake for the procedure, so you can hold your baby in your arms after they’re born.

STDs can be transmitted through breast milk

Usually, it’s healthier to nurse your baby with breast milk than it is to give them formula. But if you have an active STD, we encourage you not to breastfeed until you speak with us and get treatment, if necessary.

If you have HIV, you shouldn’t breastfeed at all, even if you take antiviral medications. You can breastfeed if you have:

If you have trichomoniasis, you must take the antibiotic metronidazole in order to safely breastfeed. You need to wait about 12-24 hours after taking your medication before nursing your baby. 

You can nurse if you have syphilis or herpes, as long as your baby doesn’t come into contact with any sores, including lesions on your breast. You could also pump your breast milk, as long as the pump doesn’t contact any sores.

You can cure a bacterial STD

The good news is that a course of antibiotics can usually cure STDs that are caused by bacterial infections. STDs that respond to antibiotics include:

Take an STD test as soon as you know you’re pregnant or if you’re thinking about becoming pregnant. That way, we can cure any infection before it affects your baby. 

You can manage a viral STD

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for most of the STDs that are caused by viruses. This includes HIV and herpes. But you can take antiviral medication that reduces symptoms. 

Dr. Smith recommends a C-section if you have HIV. If you have herpes, she also recommends a C-section if you have active lesions at the time of delivery. 

Get tested now … and later

An STD test empowers you and Dr. Smith with knowledge. If you know that your baby is at risk, you can take steps to reduce the risk or even cure an STD before you pass it to your baby.

Dr. Smith conducts STD tests as soon as she knows you’re pregnant. If you’re planning to become pregnant, Dr. Smith also recommends STD tests. 

If you stay sexually active during your pregnancy — particularly if you switch partners — Dr. Smith may recommend further tests. Pregnancy doesn’t protect against STDs.

Keep yourself and your baby safe with STD screening. Call our team at our Houston, Texas, office or use our online form to book an STD test today.

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