Can you still catch a sexually transmitted disease (STD) if you are pregnant? The answer is yes. Being pregnant does not protect you or your unborn child from STDs. If you are sexually active during your pregnancy, it is important to take proper precautions against STD transmission. Not doing so may put you and your child at risk for serious, even life-threatening, complications.
STDs can affect pregnant women the same way they affect women who are not pregnant. A pregnant woman who acquires an STD can have complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic hepatitis, and generalized infections. In addition to general health problems, there is also a greater chance of problems with the pregnancy, such as early labor, premature rupture of the membranes surrounding the fetus, and stillbirth. Moreover, babies born with an STD may suffer from low birth-weight, eye infections, bloodstream infections, blindness, deafness, pneumonia, liver disease, or severe birth defects.
From Mother to Child
A mother can pass an STD to her child in several ways. If the child is still in utero, the disease can cross the placenta and infect the unborn child. STDs can also infect a baby as it passes through the birth canal during delivery. Chlamydia, hepatitis B, and gonorrhea are some STDs that may infect a baby this way.
Protecting You and Your Baby
The best way to protect you and your baby from STDs is not to have sex, or to be in a relationship where both you and your partner only have sex with each other and no one else. Just as you are checked for STDs routinely during pregnancy, you may also want to make sure that your partner has been tested for STDs.
If you do choose to have sex and are uncertain of your partner’s STD status, protect yourself by using condoms. Latex condoms, in particular, are quite effective in reducing the transmission of several diseases such as HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Condoms must be used correctly and consistently to be effective.
Getting proper prenatal care is also important. Since many STDs do not have symptoms, testing for STDs during your routine prenatal exams can help you and your healthcare provider monitor the health of you and your baby. And if an STD is detected, it can be treated promptly. Even if you were tested in the past, you should be retested once you become pregnant. The latest guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that pregnant women be screened for the following STDs early in the pregnancy:
- Hepatitis B
- HIV infection
- Hepatitis C (if you are at increased risk)
If you are at high risk for STDs, your healthcare provider may recommend that you also be tested closer to your delivery date, such as during the third trimester. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about your screening options.
If you are pregnant and have certain STDs, there may be ways to treat them. STDs caused by bacteria, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, can be cured with antibiotics. There are antibiotics that are safe to take during your pregnancy. STDs that are caused by viruses, like genital herpes and HIV, cannot be cured. However, pregnant women with STDs caused by viruses may receive antiviral medications to keep the disease from worsening or being passed to the child. In some instances, your doctor may also consider performing a cesarean section instead of a vaginal birth when it is time to deliver your child. This will prevent the disease from being transferred to the baby when the baby passes through the birth canal.
When it comes to protecting you and your baby from STDs, be proactive. Attend your prenatal exams and talk with your healthcare provider about STD screening. If you choose to have sex while pregnant, make sure both you and your partner have been tested and are in a monogamous relationship. Also remember that using condoms correctly and regularly can decrease your risk of getting many types of STDs. Taking these steps will ensure a successful pregnancy and a healthy newborn!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated January 25, 2017. Accessed February 3, 2017.
Routine prenatal care. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114252/Routine-prenatal-care. Updated Jauary 8, 2017. Accessed February 3, 2017.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/stds-and-pregnancy. Updated August 2015. Accessed February 3, 2017.
Sexually transmitted infections (STI) fact sheet. Office on Women's Health website. Available at:https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/sexually-transmitted-infections.html. Updated August 31, 2015. Accessed February 3, 2017.
STDs & pregnancy—CDC fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/pregnancy/stdfact-pregnancy-detailed.htm. Updated December 16, 2014. Accessed February 3, 2017.
Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 2/3/2017