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STDs and Pregnancy: How do STDs Affect Pregnancy?

The information provided herein does not constitute an expert or medical advice, nor intended to replace such advice.

Sexual Health

Pregnant mothers usually want to do whatever it takes to help keep their children healthy. What if a pregnant woman has an STD? How do STDs affect pregnancy? Can this cause issues with her baby? Is it okay to get treated for an STD during pregnancy?

Can an STD mess up a pregnancy?

Some STDs can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy. For example, HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C can all be passed from the mother’s bloodstream to the baby’s bloodstream. This has the potential to cause a lifelong infection for the baby, although treatments can help to decrease this risk in some cases.

Some STDs can also be transmitted to the baby in the vaginal canal during the birthing process. In order to reduce the risk of transmission of certain STDs to the baby, Cesarean delivery may be recommended. Also known as a C-section, this involves taking the baby out through an incision in the uterus, rather than allowing the baby to pass through the vagina. This can help to avoid transmitting certain infections to the baby during birth. 

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For example, if a mother has active herpes sores at the time of delivery, then a Cesarean delivery is recommended to avoid exposing the baby to the virus. Newborns who get herpes can get a very severe infection that affects their organs and can even be fatal. It’s also important to treat infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia, because these can be passed to the baby during birth and can cause severe infections of the eyes and lungs.

Are babies tested for STDs at birth?

If the mother has an infection that may have been passed to the baby during pregnancy or delivery, then the baby will be tested shortly after birth. For example, if the mother has hepatitis C, then the baby will need to be tested to check whether they have acquired the virus too. Many babies who get hepatitis C from their moms will end up clearing the virus on their own over time, but some will need long-term treatment for this virus.

What STDs can cause birth defects?

Untreated syphilis can cause severe birth defects in the baby. These include nervous system problems like blindness and deafness, as well as problems with the liver, spleen, and bones.

In addition, some STDs lead to an increased risk of premature birth or low birth weight in the baby. These include gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.

How can I reduce my risk of getting an STD while pregnant?

It’s certainly possible to have sex while pregnant, and there’s generally no reason to avoid it, as long as you feel comfortable. In fact, many women find that sex during pregnancy is particularly enjoyable, especially during the second trimester.

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However, it’s even more important to ensure that you practice safe sex while you’re pregnant. If you get an STD, this could affect both you and your baby. For example, if you get herpes closer to the end of your pregnancy, you’re much more likely to transmit it to your baby than if you got the virus before you got pregnant or towards the beginning of the pregnancy. If you’re having sex while pregnant, and you’re not in a mutually monogamous sexual relationship (such as marriage), then you should definitely use a condom every single time you have sex. 

Can I get treated for an STD while I’m pregnant?

STDs that are caused by bacteria or parasites can be treated using antibiotics. There are options for treatment that are safe to use during pregnancy. In fact, it’s generally recommended that if you have one of these diseases during pregnancy, that you get treatment. This helps to avoid damage to the developing baby. STDs that can be treated with antibiotics include syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.

STDs that are caused by viruses can’t be cured, but there are medications available that can help to reduce the risk to your baby. Women with HIV should receive treatment throughout the pregnancy to keep their levels of the virus low, to reduce the risk of transmission to the baby. Women with herpes may take antiviral medications close to the time of delivery, to reduce the risk that there will be active herpes sores when the baby is born. If there are any active herpes sores, then a Cesarean delivery is recommended to protect the baby from a very serious herpes infection.


STDs during Pregnancy – CDC Detailed Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). https://www.cdc.gov/std/pregnancy/stdfact-pregnancy-detailed.htm. Accessed 27 Oct 2022.

Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in Pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/hepatitis-b-and-hepatitis-c-in-pregnancy. Accessed 27 Oct 2022.

HIV and Pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/hiv-and-pregnancy. Accessed 27 Oct 2022.

Dr. Patricia Shelton

Dr. Patricia Shelton

Dec 11, 2022

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