Sexually transmitted diseases are actually a viral or bacterial illness that you can get from having oral, anal or genital sex with an infected partner. During pregnancy, these can have serious health consequences not just for you, but your baby as well.
The worst part about STDs is that it isn’t only through sex that these can be transmitted. For instance, the hepatitis B virus can also be transmitted to you from contact with needles or sharp instruments that are contaminated or through contact with the open sores or blood of an infected individual. This particular element makes STDs most dangerous particularly to pregnant women.
A major reason why STDs are so dangerous during pregnancy is because most of these can easily get passed on to your baby through the placenta, or when you water breaks and even during labor. What’s more is that most of these diseases and infections can prove very harmful, and in some cases even fatal, to babies and can also trigger irreversible health problems. To help you out, here’s a list of 7 STDs and their effects on pregnant women and their babies:
The onset of genital herpes leads to the formation of sores or lesions on the cervix or vulva and around the vaginal region. Having painful blisters or sores down there is a sure fire sign that you have herpes, but at times there may be no symptoms at all. For those who don’t have any symptoms, the sores tend to heal and then reappear rather sporadically because even if the sores heal, the virus continues to remain in the body.
In case you have a genital herpes outbreak during pregnancy, the best option is for you to have a C-section. This is because during delivery, you just mind end up infecting your baby, which can lead to mental retardation, blindness, damage to the nervous system and in worst cases, death. However, you need to bear in mind that having a C-section isn’t actually 100 percent effective, because in case your water breaks a few hours before birth, the virus may spread to your baby.
Treatment of genital herpes
If you have a genital herpes outbreak during pregnancy, the one thing you can be assured of is that the virus is not going to harm your baby in the womb. It is only during delivery that your baby will be at risk of getting infected. In case your genital lesions are active during childbirth, the risk of the infection being transmitted to your baby will be higher for which reason it is best for a C-section to be performed. However, during pregnancy, you will receive treatment in the form of antiviral medication.
In most cases, gonorrhea happens to be asymptomatic. However, when symptoms are present, they include:
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Painful urination
- Stomach pain
For those who don’t know, gonorrhea happens to be a bacterial infection that has the potential to spread from mother to baby during delivery. This STD needs to be treated immediately because if it is left untreated, it can increase your risk of having a miscarriage and/or premature birth. In case you deliver your baby while having the infection, it may trigger eye infections in your baby and may even lead to blindness. Babies who are born to mothers suffering from gonorrhea are also known to have an increased risk of developing joint infections as well as potentially fatal blood disorders. All such newborns are immediately given medication for the prevention of eye infections that can cause blindness. What’s good is that gonorrhea can easily be treated with the help of antibiotics, so treatment is totally possible for pregnant women. For this reason, if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, make sure that you seek treatment and medical help right away.
Risks to the baby
There are many risks associated with having gonorrhea during pregnancy. To begin with, it can make your water break early, trigger a miscarriage, preterm birth and may even lead your baby to having pneumonia right after birth. Also, considering that gonorrhea can be asymptomatic, it is highly recommended for you to get yourself tested during pregnancy just in case.
Like gonorrhea, chlamydia is also known to remain asymptomatic in most cases. However, when it does show symptoms, they are inclusive of:
- Painful urination
- Pelvic pain
- Unusual vaginal discharge
Women who get infected with chlamydia while pregnant are at higher risk of having infections related to the amniotic sac and fluid. Apart from that, they may also have preterm premature rupture of the membranes (PPROM), and even preterm birth. Experts believe that chlamydia also has the potential to trigger a miscarriage, but this has not been verified through extensive research as of yet. However, timely treatment has the potential to reduce the risks of these health concerns.
The worst part about chlamydia is that it can easily make you fairly more susceptible to contracting HIV and a number of other sexually transmitted diseases in case you get exposed to them. Apart from that, it may also lead you to having a uterine infection right after delivering your baby.
Risks to your pregnancy and baby
Chlamydia is quite like gonorrhea in terms of the risks that it poses to an expectant mother and her baby. For instance, it can increase your chances of having a miscarriage and/or premature birth. Apart from that, like gonorrhea, childbirth while being infected with chlamydia has the potential to cause eye infections or a severe bout of pneumonia in your baby. The medicines that are given to newborns at birth for the prevention of gonorrhea related eye infections also assist in preventing chlamydia related eye infections. To prevent complications and to receive immediate treatment, make sure that you get tested for chlamydia as soon as you get pregnant.
Syphilis is easily misdiagnosed because its symptoms are quite like those of the flu. The infection basically creates a chancre or sore on the vagina, vulva, anus, rectum or even the cervix. If the infected individual does not receive timely treatment, syphilis is capable of damaging organs and may eventually lead to death.
The worst part about syphilis is that detecting it can be very hard. This is because the sore, which is painless, tend to hide deep within the vagina. An infection can only be determined through a blood test after the early stages by performing tests on a sample from the sore. Moreover, the infection can easily get passed onto your baby through your bloodstream and if this happens, there is a high chance that you will have a either a miscarriage, stillbirth, or your water will break early. Also, if your baby gets infected, he may suffer from birth defects, which adds to the reasons why you should seek treatment for syphilis right away. Even if your child contracts syphilis, treatment after birth can work wonders in terms of preventing further damage. Syphilis treatment is best offered to pregnant women in the first 3-4 months of pregnancy.
Further risks associated with syphilis
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can prove to be extremely harmful to unborn babies and infants alike. It can cause premature birth and if left untreated, it can lead to serious complications in various organs like the brain, heart, eyes, skin, bones and teeth etc. Treatment for this infection is easily possible during pregnancy with the help of antibiotics.
HIV is a well-known viral STD that does not have any known cure as of yet. The STD is characterized by long-lasting flu-type symptoms. Just so you know, HIV basically weakens the immune system by attacking CD4+ and T-cells. This ends up making it extremely hard for the body to keep diseases and infections at bay. If you have HIV/AIDS during pregnancy, then treatment can cut down the chance of your newborn contracting it to about 2%. But if treatment is not sought, there is a 25% chance that your newborn will also suffer from the disease.
The thing with HIV is that it can be passed on to your baby both during pregnancy and delivery. If you are seeking treatment for this particular STD, then it will have to continue all through your pregnancy and delivery. Your newborn will also need to receive treatment in the first six weeks after delivery. However, in order to prevent this virus from spreading, there is a good chance that your doctor will perform a C-section. You may also have to refrain from nursing your baby as it can pass the virus to him as well.
If you suffer from HIV/AIDS, your health care provider will have blood tests performed all through your pregnancy so as to keep your viral load in check along with your CD4+ cell count. Through these tests, s/he will be able to determine when you should be given drugs to suppress HIV, the therapy that will work best for you and whether you need to make any additional lifestyle changes or not.
2 Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a viral liver infection of which nearly 70% cases tend to remain asymptomatic. When the infection shows symptoms, they can include:
- Excessive fatigue
- Dark urine
If you suffer from hepatitis B during pregnancy, there is a fair chance that your developing baby may also contract it in the womb though the placenta. In case your newborn contracts the infection, he may also suffer from liver diseases that can, in the worst case scenario, prove fatal. For newborns that are born to hepatitis B-positive mothers, doctors will immediately vaccinate them with antibodies so that they can be protected against the infection.
In case a pregnant woman gets infected by hepatitis B early in her pregnancy, the chance that her developing baby will also contract the virus remains at about 10%. However, if she gets infected later on, the risk of infecting her baby as well goes up to a full 90%. In infants, the infection can take a rather serious form and may even threaten their lives. In nearly 25% of such cases, it can trigger liver failure, scarring, and even cancer. The worst part is that infected newborns can become carriers of the virus and may pass on the infection to others too.
Treatment for women who get exposed to the virus during pregnancy
In case a woman gets exposed to the hepatitis B virus while pregnant, she will receive treatment in the form of a special antibody that is meant to reduce her chances of contracting the infection.
1 HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
HPV is a fairly common STD that causes genital warts. It is known for its numerous viral strains, a few of which have the potential to trigger cervical cancer.
If you contract HPV during pregnancy, there is a good chance that your health care provider will delay treatment until after the delivery of your baby. However, in case the genital warts grow so big due to pregnancy hormones that they start obstructing the birth canal, there is a good chance that your baby will be delivered via a C-section. But the good part is that HPV is not expected to have any effects whatsoever on your developing baby. Even if you baby contracts HPV, he will be able to overcome it by himself without any problems or symptoms. The only concern that you will probably have if you contract HPV during pregnancy is that the genital warts will grow rather fast during pregnancy due to your hormones and the extra vaginal discharge that offers a moist growing environment to the virus. The changes in your immune system may also contribute to their quick growth.
In the rare case that your child gets the type of HPV that triggers the onset of genital warts, he will most probably develop warts on his vocal cords and other areas during childhood. Although very rare, this condition known as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis is rather serious and needs to be treated immediately.
As of yet, treatment of the virus isn’t really possible through drugs. In case you have warts, they may be treated using a special acid solution, removal through laser, by electrocautery, or even by freezing them using a liquid nitrogen solution.