STDs and Childbirth

If you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and are pregnant, it is essential to inform your doctor so he or she can take the necessary precautions to ensure your baby's safety. Different STDs pose different risks to pregnancy and delivery.

If you have an active herpes lesion in the vaginal area while giving birth, the baby can be exposed to it. The threat of herpes extends beyond the baby’s skin and ranges from serious neurological damage, to mental retardation or even death. If you have active lesions while pregnant, a Cesarean section is recommended, and OB-GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson advises having a vaginal exam before going into labor. “But the caveat to that is you could have an ulceration vaginally, and it can not be seen but still be exposed to the baby,” she adds.

“If you have [herpes], you have to tell your doctor,” pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears says. “Don’t keep it a secret, don’t be embarrassed about it. You have to tell, because then they’ll know how to help you and your baby be healthy.”

Syphilis is an STD caused by the bacterium treponema pallidum. Syphilis can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and contact with an open sore or contact with a skin rash. The bacteria can enter the body through the penis, anus, vagina, mouth or through broken skin. The disease progresses in three different stages, the first of which includes one or more painless sores on the genitalia, often followed by a rash. If left untreated, the disease can destroy the central nervous system and severely damage organs.

An infected pregnant woman can pass the disease to her unborn child during her pregnancy. Depending on how long a pregnant woman has been infected, she may have a high risk of having a stillbirth or of giving birth to a baby who dies shortly after birth. An infected baby may be born without signs or symptoms of the disease. However, if not treated immediately, the baby may develop serious problems within a few weeks. Untreated babies may become developmentally delayed, have seizures or die.

Syphilis is not spread by contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, shared clothing or eating utensils.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
is a viral infection transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. Women who are infected with HIV and become pregnant are recommended to take anti-HIV medications to reduce mother-to-child transmission. The risk of mother-to-child transmission is low if the mother takes medication and has a viral load lower than 1,000 copies/mL during the time of delivery. During pregnancy, a woman is normally prescribed a combination of three medications to take as late as her second trimester. During labor and delivery, medications are administered intravenously to avoid transmitting the disease via genital fluids or blood, in addition to the normal medications the mother had been taking during pregnancy. After the baby is born, he or she is given medication for six weeks.

If you become pregnant and are HIV positive or suspect you may be, consult your physician immediately.