STD's and Pregnancy

by Anai Rhoads

Consequences of an STD can be significantly more serious, even life threatening, for a woman and her baby if the woman becomes infected with an STD while she is pregnant. As the list of diseases known to be sexually transmitted continues to grow, it is increasingly important that women be aware of the harmful effects of these diseases and know how to protect themselves.

How can STDs affect a woman during pregnancy?

STDs can cause cervical and other cancers, chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and other complications. Many STDs are present without symptoms in women.

Can a baby become infected?

STDs like syphilis cross the placenta and infect the fetus during its development. STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, and genital herpes are transmitted from the mother to the infant as the infant passes through the birth canal.

What affect does it have on the fetus or newborn?

Some of these consequences may be apparent at birth; others may not be detected until months or even years later.

Effects on the baby may include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Conjunctivitis (eye infection)
  • Pneumonia
  • Neonatal sepsis (infection in the blood stream)
  • Neurologic damage (such as brain damage or motor disorder)
  • Congenital abnormalities (including blindness, deafness, or other organ damage)
  • Acute hepatitis
  • Meningitis
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Stillbirth

The table below shows the estimated number of pregnant women in the U.S. per year with specific STDs.

STDs Number of Pregnant Women
Bacterial vaginosis 800,000
Chlamydia 200,000
Gonorrhea 40,000
Herpes simplex 800,000
Hepatitis B 40,000
HIV 8,000
Syphilis 8,000
Trichomoniasis 80,000

How are STDs treated during pregnancy?

Bacterial STDs (like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) can be treated and cured with antibiotics during pregnancy. There is no cure for viral STDs such as genital herpes and HIV, but antiviral medication for herpes and HIV may reduce symptoms in the pregnant woman.

Where can I get more information?

HIV Hotline 1-800-342-AIDS
STD Hotline 1-800-227-8922

Anai Rhoads is a medical and political researcher/writer with a particular interest in the sanctions on Iraq and the wider effect of racism's influence in the Middle East. A vegan since 2000, she is a dedicated supporter of activities which promote animal and human rights. Originally from Greece, she now resides in Virginia, USA with her husband and their two dogs, Bijou and Eva.

Copyright © Anai Rhoads. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.