Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are common in the U.S. Being pregnant doesn’t protect you from getting an STD. In fact, because some STDs may have minor symptoms or none at all, it is not unusual to find out that you have an STD while pregnant, simply because you are more likely to be tested. Testing for STDs is a standard part of prenatal care and happens at the very first visit.
Some STDs can negatively impact your pregnancy or the baby if left untreated. For example, they can lead to problems like ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, preterm labor, or even passing the disease to your baby. The risks to you and your baby depend on which STD you have contracted.
Here are some of the most common STDs and how they may affect pregnancy.
Chlamydia is a bacteria that you get from having sex with an infected person. It is the most common STD, and symptoms include a yellow discharge, painful urination, and breakthrough bleeding. The good news is that antibiotics taken orally can cure you of chlamydia. Untreated chlamydia in pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage.
Gonorrhea is the second most common STD and is frequently found with chlamydia. Like chlamydia, it also has symptoms that include a yellow discharge, frequent or painful urination, and breakthrough bleeding. This disease can be cured with a treatment of two types of antibiotics. Without treatment, gonorrhea has been implicated in preterm labor, a baby who is small for gestational age, and stillbirth.
This STD is a parasite transmitted from an infected partner. It can cause your baby to be born too early or to be born with low birth weight. If you have trichomoniasis, you may experience pain, itching, burning, or a discharge, but many people have no symptoms. A simple medication can clear up this STD, but it can come back if you and your partner are not careful during treatment.
One in six adults in the U.S. is said to have herpes. Some people with this STD have no symptoms or mild symptoms, but it also may result in outbreaks of sores at the site of infection. There is a risk that you will pass the virus to your baby if you have untreated herpes during pregnancy. You may be treated with antivirals to lower this risk, but you may also need a cesarean section to deliver your baby safely. There is no cure for herpes, but it can be managed.
Hepatitis B is a virus that is passed during contact with infected body fluids like semen and blood. There is no cure for hepatitis B, and it can be passed to your baby during birth. However, it should not affect your chances of vaginal delivery, and breastfeeding is still an option. You should talk to your doctor about the hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin during pregnancy to prevent infection.
Syphilis is caused by a bacteria transmitted during sexual contact with an infected person. It can appear as a painless sore, or a rash, depending on how long you have had the disease. There is antibiotic treatment, but you may need a longer course if you have had the disease for a long while. Syphilis is one of the most dangerous diseases in pregnancy. It is diagnosed with a blood test. Left untreated, you can pass this on to your baby and cause birth defects, miscarriage, and other complications.
HIV is a serious disease that women may have and not known until they become pregnant and are routinely tested. It is transmitted through infected bodily fluids like semen and can be passed on to your baby. This transmission rate is drastically reduced if you take medication in pregnancy, give birth with a cesarean delivery, do not breastfeed, and give your baby medication after birth. This is the best way to prevent transmitting the virus to your baby.
Pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is not an STD itself, but it is caused when bacteria, usually from an untreated chlamydia and/or gonorrhea infection, moves into the fallopian tubes. It is diagnosed more than 1 million times a year. PID can lead to scarring in the tubes and other female organs, which can lead to infertility and an increase in ectopic pregnancy risk. Diagnosis and treatment of STDs, in general, can help prevent PID.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is not necessarily an STD, but it typically occurs in women who are sexually active. Your vagina normally contains bacteria that are not harmful. But when there is an unbalance of certain types of bacteria, it can cause bacterial vaginosis (BV). Symptoms of BV include a discharge and/or fishy odor. Some of the risk factors for BV include douching or having a new sexual partner or multiple partners. Because BV can cause preterm labor if you have symptoms, you should be treated in pregnancy. If you don’t have symptoms, treatment may or may not help, this is something to talk to your practitioner about during your visits.
It can be frightening to find out that you have an STD at any point, but particularly if you are pregnant. But talking to your doctor or midwife can help you get the treatment you need to can help prevent complications for you and your baby, both during and after pregnancy. Don’t be afraid to speak up and get help.
See more helpful articles:
2016 Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 26, 2017.
Robin Elise Weiss, Ph.D., LCCE, CLC, AdvCD(DONA) is a childbirth educator, doula, founder of Childbirth.org, and the award-winning pregnancy and parenting author of “The Complete Illustrated Guide to Pregnancy” and more than 10 other books. Between her nine children, teaching childbirth classes, and attending births for more than two decades, she has built up an impressive and practical knowledge base. You can follow Robin on Twitter @RobinPregnancy, Instagram, and Facebook.