Pregnancy & Sexually Transmitted Infections
What are sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
Sexually transmitted infections, commonly called STIs, are infections that are spread by having sex with someone who has an STI. Sexually transmitted infections are passed on from sexual activity that involves the mouth, anus or vagina.
- Genital herpes.
- Hepatitis B.
- Genital warts.
- Trichomonas Vaginalis (“Trich”).
Can a pregnant person pass on a sexually transmitted infection (STI) to their baby?
Pregnant people with an STI may infect the developing fetus, or during or after the baby’s birth. For this reason, your healthcare provider will screen you for most STIs at your first prenatal visit. If you have sex with someone who is affected, after your initial screening, you will need to be tested again. Treatment of STIs is the best way to protect you and your baby.
What are the symptoms of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
Sometimes, there are no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they might include:
- Bumps, sores, or warts near the mouth, anus, penis or vagina.
- Swelling or redness near the penis or vagina.
- Skin rash.
- Painful urination.
- Weight loss, loose stools, night sweats.
- Aches, pains, fever and chills.
- Yellowing of the skin (jaundice).
- Discharge from the penis or vagina (vaginal discharge might have an odor).
- Bleeding from the vagina other than during a monthly period.
- Painful sex.
- Severe itching near the penis or vagina.
How can sexually transmitted infections (STIs) affect my pregnancy and treatment options?
STIs in pregnancy can affect you and your developing fetus:
Chlamydia: Pregnancy seems to be unaffected by chlamydia infection. However, infants exposed to the infection at birth can develop severe eye infections or pneumonia.
Treatment: Mothers with chlamydia are treated with antibiotics and all newborn babies are given antibiotic eye ointment after birth to prevent infections.
Genital herpes: Herpes infection in pregnant people is relatively safe until you get ready to deliver. Active herpes lesions on the genitals are contagious and can infect the infant during childbirth. Thus, many people with genital herpes deliver via cesarean section.
Treatment: Antiviral medications can be given. Cesarean section if indicated.
Gonorrhea: If contracted during pregnancy, the infection can cause mouth sores, fever and bloodstream infections. The fetus is usually unaffected. But if the baby is born while the mother has an active infection,they may develop an eye infection or blindness, joint infections or blood infections.
Treatment: Mothers with gonorrhea are treated with antibiotics and all newborn babies are given antibiotic eye ointment after birth to prevent infections.
Hepatitis B: This is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. If a pregnant person is infected with hepatitis B, they can transmit the infection to the fetus through the placenta. In addition, women with hepatitis B are more likely to have premature birth delivery. However, early screening and vaccination can prevent the worst outcomes of this infection.
Treatment: If you have hepatitis B, your doctor will give your newborn baby an injection of antibodies and a vaccine to prevent the baby from becoming infected.
HIV/AIDS: Thanks to the advent of powerful medication combinations, transmission of HIV infection to your infant is almost completely preventable.
Treatment: Although HIV/AIDS is an incurable disease, you can prevent transmitting the virus to your baby by taking various medications.
HPV/genital warts: It is a common STI that can present with lesions or may have no symptoms at all.
Treatment: If you contract genital warts during pregnancy, treatment may be delayed until after you deliver. Delivery is only affected if large genital warts are present, and your healthcare provider will discuss delivery options with you.
Syphilis: Syphilis is easily passed on to the fetus and is likely to cause fatal infections. Untreated fetuses can be born premature or develop problems in multiple organs, including eyes, ears, heart, skin and bones.
Treatment: Your healthcare provider will likely prescribe antibiotics to you during pregnancy to reduce the risk of transmission to the fetus.
Trichomonas vaginalis: This is a parasite that causes vaginal discharge. If left untreated, babies can be premature and have low birth weights.
Treatment: This infection is easily treatable with antibiotics.
If you are given an antibiotic to treat an STI, it’s important that you take all of your medicine, even if the symptoms go away. Also, never take someone else’s medicine to treat your illness. By doing so, you might make it more difficult to treat the infection. Likewise, you should not share your medicine with others.
How can I protect myself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
Here are some basic steps you can take to help protect yourself from STIs:
- Not having sex is the only sure way to prevent STIs.
- Use a condom every time you have sex. (If you use a lubricant, make sure it is water-based.)
- Limit your number of sex partners.
- Practice monogamy. This means having sex with only one person. That person must also have sex with only you to reduce your risk.
- Get checked for STIs. Don’t risk giving the infection to someone else or your baby. Just because you have been screened in early pregnancy, doesn’t mean you can’t contract an STI later in pregnancy. If you have engaged in unprotected sex since your initial STI screening, please request another set of STI screenings from your healthcare provider.
- Don’t use alcohol or drugs before you have sex, especially when pregnant. You might be less likely to practice safe sex if you are drunk or high.
- Know the signs and symptoms of STIs. Look for them in yourself and your sex partners.
- Learn about STIs. The more you know about STIs, the better you can protect yourself.
How can I prevent spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
- Stop having sex until you see a healthcare provider and are treated.
- Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for treatment.
- Use condoms whenever you have sex, especially with new partners.
- Don’t resume having sex unless your healthcare provider says it’s okay.
- Return to your healthcare provider to get rechecked.
- Be sure your sex partner or partners also are treated.
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