15 Infections During Pregnancy That Cause Baby Birth Defects

An expecting mother has many different things to worry about. Is she eating the right things? Is she avoiding environmental things that could affect her baby? Will it be born healthy? Will it be a boy or a girl? What name will we finally choose?

Unfortunately, there are also many things that may happen while mom is expecting that can affect her unborn child, not excluding different sicknesses and infections. A developing baby gets everything from the mother; shelter, nutrition, and unfortunately sicknesses, oftentimes passed through the placenta during critical stages of the baby’s development. Although the infections I delve into are generally pretty rare, if the mother doesn’t know about them soon enough or can’t be treated, for whatever reason, then they could be quite troublesome for the soon to be person.

If a woman is expecting, or is planning on becoming pregnant, it’s important that she be cognizant of her surroundings. Many illnesses are passed through insects, some sexually, some just through sheer bad luck. It’s also important for her to be totally open and honest with her doctor; if she has an infection that could be diagnosed and treated, but is ashamed of the symptoms, that could be extremely detrimental for her baby. Many of these illnesses are treatable, as long as they are caught in time. Modern medicine is incredibly conscious of what can harm a new baby, but nothing can be done if the doctor doesn’t know about the disease, or the mother’s symptoms, until it’s too late.

15 Chicken Pox

We all are familiar with chicken pox, but it’s not really known as a terribly dangerous condition. Even with the markings, the itchiness, and the contagiousness, if contracted it’s considered more of a nuisance than a serious medical condition. Besides, it’s not something a lot of us need to deal with anymore; in 1995 The United States started offering a vaccine that either immunized people completely or at the very least prevented a severe outbreak. However, if a pregnant woman has never been exposed to it, and has never been vaccinated, it’s possible that her baby will be affected.

Although most adults are immune, if an expecting mother is exposed to chicken pox in the first or second trimester, and is in fact not immune herself, then the baby is at risk of developing Congenital Varicella Syndrome; a disease characterized by birth defects such as skin scarring, malformed limbs, microcephaly, and different neurological problems, such as intellectual disability.

14 Syphilis

Although known more for its effects on adults, if a woman has syphilis while pregnant it can mean some issues for the baby. A sexually transmitted infection, syphilis is caused by a certain type of bacteria. If it is caught early on, it is very easily treatable, specifically with antibiotics. But if left untreated, it can have some very serious long term effects. A pregnant woman can transmit the disease to her child either through the placenta while pregnant, or through direct contact with a sore during the delivery.

If a baby develops syphilis in utero, then it can be lost through miscarriage or stillbirth. If the baby survives the delivery, it may be left with some severe neurological problems. At birth, the baby may also have skin rashes or lesions, abnormal nasal secretions, and sometimes even anemia. Some of the issues may be visible on an ultrasound, and those include an overly large placenta, fluid in the abdomen, or an overly large liver or spleen.

13 Rash On The Cheeks

Fifth Disease, named that way as it was the fifth rash condition to be identified, is another one that is not really known to be terrifically dangerous. Mostly affecting kids preschool aged, it generally starts off feeling rather flu-like; fever, achiness, runny nose, things like that. After about a week of these symptoms, a red rash begins to form on the cheeks of the affected, (which is where the term slapped cheek syndrome comes from). By the time the rash crops up, the person is usually no longer contagious.

Adults can get this disease as well, and if a pregnant woman contracts it, that’s where problems could arise. Although not extremely common, most women are immune to it and if they are not, there is only about a 30% chance it will pass onto the baby, it can be extremely dangerous. It can cause stillbirth, miscarriage, fetal anemia, or, in some rare cases, inflammation of the heart. If the anemia or heart inflammation gets to be too much, the infant can develop hydrops, which is when there is too much fluid in the tissues.

12 Virus With No Treatment

Another one that is not super common anymore, thanks to the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles, rubella). If contracted, rubella can be a serious issue for newborn babies. If the mother is exposed to rubella in the first four months of her pregnancy, it can mean some serious birth defects or even miscarriage. If a woman comes into contact with anyone with a rash, or who claims to have rubella, she should immediately get herself checked out. If she has not had two doses of the MMR vaccine, then it is likely she could come down with rubella (if the other person did in fact have the disease).

If a woman develops rubella during the first four months or so of her pregnancy, it can mean some serious detrimental effects for the baby. The baby can develop hearing loss, brain damage, heart deficiencies, or cataracts. It is also possible that the mother will lose the baby due to miscarriage. If a woman develops rubella during pregnancy, there is no known treatment, as MMR vaccines cannot be administered to a pregnant woman.

11 CMV - Cold Sores And Chicken Pox

CMV is a fairly common virus, one that can cause cold sores or chickenpox. Although not particularly dangerous for the baby if the mother has not previously had the infection, it can certainly cause some issues for a new baby. It’s possible for the baby's liver to be enlarged, they may have vision issues, or general problems with their eyes, and could potentially suffer from seizures.

While those symptoms are serious, 85-95% of babies with CMV will not exhibit symptoms, and most of those will have no later problems in life. However, some babies with symptomless CMV will develop issues later on, such as mental or coordination problems. They may also develop vision problems later on down the road. Unfortunately, there is no medication to fully treat all the issues, but some antiviral medications may help alleviate some of the symptoms of congenital CMV. They may help prevent brain development issues and may help to avoid hearing loss.

10 Group B Strep

This is an infection that is carried in an estimated 30% of people, but rarely have any signs or symptoms of anything wrong. It is carried in the intestines and the vagina of women, and usually does not affect the pregnancy. If it does infect the baby, however, it does so just before, or sometimes during labor, and can mean serious consequences for the baby. It is more likely to affect the baby if the woman goes into premature labor, if she has a fever during labor, or if the water breaks early.

If the baby does become infected and exhibits symptoms, they are often quite serious. They include pneumonia, possible sepsis, and sometimes meningitis, which is an infection of the lining around the brain. Meningitis can then lead to hearing and vision loss, learning disabilities, or sometimes it can be fatal. If there is a suspicion that the baby will contract GBS, the mother can take antibiotics during her labor.


Goodwill Ambassador Vera Brezhneva attends a the conference "Every Woman Every Child" at U.N. Head Quarters on March 10, 2015 in New York.AFP/Kena Betancur

An HIV test is a routine part of any antenatal testing. If the result is positive, then the mother will be offered counsel in what this means for her and her baby. There is much evidence to suggest a woman who does not exhibit symptoms of HIV, but tested positively, should not have any health concerns as far as the pregnancy goes. The infection, however, can be passed to her baby, either during the pregnancy through the placenta, during birth, or even while breastfeeding.

HIV primarily affects the immune system. Over time, the number of CD4 cells in the blood is reduced. CD4 are frontrunners in fighting off infection. A healthy person has between 500 and 1,200 CD4 cells in a cubic millimeter of blood. When it begins to dip below 200 cells per cubic millimeter, the person has progressed to AIDS. While these symptoms are not exclusive to newborn babies, starting life off with that kind of deficiency is not a healthy way to begin.

8 Food Borne Illness

A food borne illness, people can contract listeriosis by eating a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. Pregnant women are particularly susceptible, as well as anyone with a compromised immune system, such as newborn babies and the elderly. Listeriosis can cause blood infection, meningitis, and a whole slew of other potentially life-threatening illnesses. Although it is a fairly rare disease, with only about 2,500 cases in the US each year, about a third of those cases are pregnant women.

This is a concerning amount, especially if you are about to be a new mother. Listeria can infect the placenta, the amniotic fluid, the baby, or any combination of the three. If this happens, chances of stillbirth or miscarriage increase greatly. If that doesn’t happen, the baby is much more likely to be born prematurely. Many of those babies are born incredibly sick, oftentimes with skin sores, lesions on their organs, and an infection of the central nervous system, such as meningitis.

7 Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a viral infection that affects the liver, which is one of the most important organs when dealing with detoxification. Therefore, when the liver gets sick, it doesn’t properly do its job, and there are more toxins going around than there should be. Oftentimes the liver becomes inflamed and sometimes can become scarred, which is called cirrhosis. A lot of times, these issues can lead to cancer.

There are five different types of hepatitis, Hep A. Hep B, Hep C, Hep D, and Hep E. Hepatitis A and E are caused by oral contact, the others are transmitted either sexually or by coming into contact with the blood of an infected person. This is what makes it so dangerous for the baby; during delivery, there is an awful lot of blood. A compromised liver sets up a whole mess of problems for a new baby, most of them the same issues as adults.

6 Furry Little Frenemies

Toxoplasmosis is transmitted by touching cat feces. Most women have had the infection before pregnancy and will, therefore, be immune. However, if a pregnant woman comes into contact with toxoplasmosis while pregnant, it can mean bad news for the baby. Luckily, it is an incredibly rare disease, with only about 1 in 1,000 babies in the US being affected every year. In addition to that, about 70-90% of infants born with congenital toxoplasmosis will exhibit no signs or symptoms of the disease.

For that unlucky one, however, the symptoms can be brutal. They can be born with an enlarged liver or spleen. They may vomit uncontrollably. Their retina could be inflamed, causing damage to the eye. It’s possible for there to be hearing loss, and some are born with Jaundice or a yellowing of the skin. This is caused by a high level of bilirubin in the liver.

5 Microscopic Parasite Shared Between Lovers

Trichomoniasis is caused by a microscopic parasite and is often transmitted sexually. It’s fairly common; it’s estimated that 7 million people have it in the United States. 124,000 of those are pregnant women. Like anything, a health concern for the mother is a health concern for the baby. However, she can be treated with a simple round of antibiotics.

A trich infection of the mother during pregnancy increases the risk for premature babies, preterm premature rupture of the membranes (PPRM), and having a baby that is vastly underweight, oftentimes weighing in below 5.5 lbs. Having trichomoniasis also increases the baby’s susceptibility to HIV should they come into contact with it. It is often passed to the baby during delivery, but, if caught early enough, can be treated by antibiotics. It is sometimes tricky to pick up on, however, as unless the mother is exhibiting symptoms (which she sometimes won’t), there will be no screening done during pregnancy.

4 STI’s

Although it’s not entirely clear as to why, STI’s are on the rise in the US, with chlamydia being the most common one. They often have no symptoms, so it’s possible that an infected person may not even know that they have it. They are usually easily treated with a round of antibiotics, but it is important to know exactly what a person is dealing with so as to prescribe the proper one. Many people feel ashamed going to the doctor for a suspected STI, but they needn’t feel that shame; your confidentiality is guaranteed when dealing with a doctor, or even a sexual health service.

Any STI could have negative effects on a baby during pregnancy, or even during birth. Many of these could be premature birth, underweight babies, or, depending on the disease, something as serious as a miscarriage. This is why it is important for a woman to get herself checked out if she thinks there may be an issue; her baby’s life could depend on it.

3 Mosquito Borne Infection

Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne infection. The symptoms include fever, headache, chills, nausea, and severe join pain. Like most things, the earlier these symptoms can be diagnosed as chikungunya, the more effective the treatment will be. Like malaria, it can be spread anytime mosquitos are out, mostly in the summertime or in any humid, warm areas.

There are some rare cases of miscarriages caused by chikungunya, but usually, the baby will not be affected during pregnancy. However, if the mother has a fever, or other symptoms, up to four days before delivery, or up to one day afterward, then it’s possible the baby will have contracted chikungunya. It’s possible for the baby to contract it through blood during the labor process. Babies who have been exposed to chikungunya often suffer from symptoms such as fever, difficulty feeding, skin problems, and seizures. If the baby has been exposed to the virus during delivery should be monitored professionally for about a week afterward, as the symptoms don’t always occur right away.

2 Zika

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JANUARY 25: Estafany Perreira holds her nephew David Henrique Ferreira, 5 months, who has microcephaly, on January 25, 2016 in Recife, Brazil.

This one received a lot of US media coverage last year, due to its appearance in Florida. Zika is transmitted mostly through mosquito bites, but can actually be transmitted sexually as well. While it can cause symptoms in the mother, such as fever, rash, and joint pain, the primary concern with this virus is that it cause birth defects. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine at birth what the specific symptoms will be.

One of the biggest concerns is the disorder known as microcephaly, the name for the condition where a baby’s brain is underdeveloped. If the brain isn’t growing at a proper level, however, many symptoms can occur. Among the most alarming are seizures, developmental delays, problems with movement and balance, and perhaps some hearing or vision loss. A misshapen face is also common, as well as issues with the speech in later years.

1 Infection Caused By Imbalance Of Bacteria

Bacterial Vaginosis is caused by an imbalance of the normal bacteria in a woman’s genitalia. It’s fairly common, and as many as 10-30% of women will experience this during their pregnancy. Although it is not transmitted sexually, it is associated with vaginal intercourse. There have been studies done showing that having BV while pregnant can increase the risk of giving birth prematurely or having an underweight baby.

In addition to these consequences, BV, like any infection during pregnancy, increases the risk of miscarriage. Although mostly associated with infectious illnesses, there have been recent studies showing that common vaginal infections can also increase the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. There are a few different options when it comes to treatment, ranging from oral medications to topical creams. If a woman feels it’s possible she has a bacterial infection during her pregnancy, she should have it checked immediately so as to avoid any possible complications.

Sources: NHS.uk, KidsHealth.org, HealthLine.com, BabyCenter.com

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