All sexually active women are at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), some of which can be serious and life threatening. With approximately 19 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases annually in the United States, the risk is high and in pregnancy the effects can be devastating.1
STDs are infections that are spread during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Symptoms are not always present or noticeable, so you may not be aware that you have an infection. Examples of STDs, some of which are incurable, include HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, human papillomavirus, syphilis, herpes, trichomoniasis and hepatitis B and C.
Testing for STDs is part of routine pre-natal care
Routine testing for many STDs is part of standard prenatal care. However, if at any time during your pregnancy you think you may have been exposed to, or have symptoms of, an STD, seeking evaluation and treatment is imperative. Your sexual partner(s) will also need to be evaluated and treated if they are found to have the infection. Depending on the STD being evaluated, screening methods include blood, urine and vaginal samples, as well as physical examination.
Having an STD can affect your baby
STDs during pregnancy may cause premature birth, low birth weight, small for gestational age babies, premature rupture of membranes, ectopic pregnancy, birth defects, miscarriage and/or stillbirth, infant infections and/or death.1,2,3 Mothers can pass an infection to their baby while pregnant and during labor and delivery.1 HIV can be passed to the infant through breastmilk.1,2
Many STD’s go undetected
- Dysuria (painful urination)
- Dyspareunia (painful sex)
- Weight loss
- Gastrointestinal disturbances such as loose stools
- Vaginal, penile, oral or anal bumps, sores, warts
- Penile or vaginal swelling and/or redness, discharge, itching
- Skin rash
- Night sweats, aching, pain, fever or chills
- Jaundice (yellow color to the skin and/or eyes)
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Treatment during pregnancy
Usually, women with STDs are treated during pregnancy. Depending on the STD being treated, options include antibiotics or antiviral medications. Certain infections, such as HIV, hepatitis b, gonorrhea and chlamydia will require that the infant receive treatment following delivery.1,3 At times, women may need to undergo a C-section to decrease the risk of maternal-infant disease transmission during the normal labor and birthing process.
You can protect yourself from contracting an STD
Here are measures you can take to help prevent acquiring or spreading a sexually transmitted disease.
- Consider abstinence (no sexual contact including vaginal, anal or oral sex)
- Consider a mutually monogamous relationship or decrease the number of sexual partners
- Use condoms with every act of sex
- Get checked by your health care provider for STDs regularly and/or when you think you may have, or have been exposed to, an STD
- Avoid alcohol and drugs so that your judgement is not impaired prior to sex (in addition to protecting your baby from the negative effects of drugs and alcohol)
- Educate yourself about STDs
- If you have an infection, do not have sex until you are cleared by your healthcare provider, complete the entire treatment regimen as directed, and be sure to get re-checked after you and your sex partner(s) have been treated.
If at any time during your pregnancy you believe that you may have either been exposed to an STD or have symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider.
- Pregnancy Complications. http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/sexually-transmitted-diseases.aspx Accessed August 2, 2015
- STDs & Pregnancy – CDC Fact Sheet. http://www.cdc.gov/std/pregnancy/stdfact-pregnancy.htm Accessed August 2, 2015
- Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. http://www.webmd.com/baby/pregnancy-sexually-transmitted-diseases Accessed August 2, 2015
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