What are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
Sexually transmitted diseases, commonly called STDs, are infections that are spread by having sex with someone who has an STD. Sexually transmitted diseases 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 woman pass on a sexually transmitted disease (STD) to her baby?
Pregnant women with a STD may infect their baby before, during, or after the baby's birth. For this reason, your healthcare provider will screen you for most STDs 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 STDs is the best way to protect you and your baby.
What are the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
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 disease (STDs) affect my pregnancy and treatment options?
STDs in pregnancy can affect you and your developing baby:
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 women is relatively safe until she gets ready to deliver. Active herpes lesions on the genitals are contagious and can infect the infant during childbirth. Thus, many women are delivered 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 blood stream infections. The baby is usually unaffected, but if the baby is born while the mother has an active infection, the baby 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 woman is infected with hepatitis B, she can transmit the infection to the fetus through the placenta, infecting the newborn baby. 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. However, if the disease is passed on, the baby may develop the HIV infection.
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 STD 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 your unborn child and is likely to cause fatal infections. Untreated infants 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 your baby.
Trichomonas Vaginalis: This is a parasite that causes vaginal discharge. If left untreated, babies can be premature and have low birth weight.
Treatment: This infection is easily treatable with antibiotics.
If you are given an antibiotic to treat an STD, 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 disease (STDs)?
Here are some basic steps you can take to help protect yourself from STDs:
- Not having sex is the only sure way to prevent STDs.
- 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 STDs. 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 STD later in pregnancy. If you have engaged in unprotected sex since your initial STD screening, please request another set of STD 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 STDs. Look for them in yourself and your sex partners.
- Learn about STDs. The more you know about STDs, the better you can protect yourself.
How can I prevent spreading sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
- 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.
Where can I learn more?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
CDC Hotline: 1.800.232.4636