Human papillomavirus, more commonly referred to as HPV, is probably the most common STD around the world. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC estimates that practically all men and women who are sexually active will get HPV at some point in their lives.
It’s perfectly understandable to feel anxious if you find out that you have HPV while you’re pregnant, or if you’ve had this STD in the past before conceiving. You may be wondering whether this virus can have any harmful effects on your pregnancy and your baby, and STDWatch.com is here to answer all your questions.
Keep reading to learn more about HPV and pregnancy.
HPV and Pregnancy
According to a study published by the journal Maedica, the presence of HPV DNA has been observed in the umbilical cord, placenta, and amniotic fluid, and it’s not impossible for these viral particles to be ingested by the baby in-utero. However, this risk remains extremely low, but it could increase in mothers who have a particularly high viral load. Most babies born to mothers with HPV are healthy and never develop any symptoms of the virus.
Does HPV cause any risks during pregnancy?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the changes in your hormonal levels during pregnancy can affect your immune response and cause HPV warts to grow faster. Additionally, it’s normal for women to experience increased vaginal discharge when they’re pregnant, and the moist and warm environment can also help the virus grow.
However, HPV isn’t known to cause significant risks during pregnancy. A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women with HPV could have an increased risk of preterm delivery, particularly if they were infected with high-risk strains such as HPV-16 and HPV-18. However, more research is necessary to establish the relationship between HPV and preterm labor, since it’s also important to consider other factors such as other vaginal infections, age, and obstetrical risk factors.
If you ever experience any symptoms of preterm labor during your pregnancy, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, signs of preterm labor can include:
- Mild abdominal cramps
- Watery, bloody, or mucus-like vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
- A feeling of pressure in your lower abdomen
- Constant, dull back pain
- Regular contractions that become more frequent and prolonged
- Membrane rupture
Will I be able to give birth naturally if I have HPV?
In most cases, there aren’t any contraindications for vaginal delivery in women who have HPV. Because the risk of transmission during delivery is low, C-sections aren’t recommended simply because you have HPV — unless, of course, you have other conditions that make a C-section necessary.
In very rare cases, severe HPV may cause large warts that obstruct the birth canal. In these instances, your doctor could recommend a C-section to protect your baby from a prolonged delivery and to prevent excessive bleeding from the warts.
Fortunately, the risk of giving HPV to your baby during a vaginal delivery is extremely low. According to Medscape, an important factor that could increase the risk of transmission during delivery is the amount of time that passes between the rupture of the membranes (when your “water breaks”) and delivery.
What happens if my baby gets HPV?
If your baby does catch HPV during delivery, there’s a good chance that they’ll never develop any HPV symptoms and will clear the infection on their own.
Babies who develop HPV manifestations usually only exhibit skin lesions or small laryngeal papillomas that don’t pose a health risk, and they typically develop them within the first 5 years of their life.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, some infants do go on to develop a more serious condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP). This condition is characterized by the recurrent formation of warts on the vocal cords or the tissue that surrounds them. In severe cases, RRP can cause vocal changes and respiratory problems. Less often, the warts can affect the mouth, trachea, and bronchi.
Treatment for RRP consists of removing the warts, which can be done through surgery, cryotherapy, or laser treatment. The severity of RRP can vary greatly — some patients never need wart removal, others only need it once, and others may require multiple interventions over time. Many cases of RRP resolve on their own as children get older. Certain medications can also slow or prevent the growth of these warts.
Thankfully, the risks associated with HPV during pregnancy are very low, and you probably won’t have anything to worry about during your pregnancy and childbirth. However, it’s important to seek guidance from your healthcare provider if you exhibit signs of HPV or any other STD during pregnancy so you can receive all the necessary tests and treatment.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Statistics - cdc.gov
- Transplacental Transmission of Human Papillomavirus - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- HPV During Pregnancy - americanpregnancy.org
- Association Between Human Papillomavirus Infection Among Pregnant Women and Preterm Birth - jamanetwork.com
- Preterm Labor and Birth - acog.org
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Treatment & Management - emedicine.medscape.com
- Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis - hopkinsmedicine.org