Women who are affected by STIs can conceive without any issues, and pregnant women can also get infected during pregnancy through unsafe sex. However, in these cases, the complications with the potential STIs can become much more serious.
While most pregnant women will undergo and STI test as a part of their routine medical assessment (at least in the UK), sometimes these tests will cover only the most serious conditions that can pose a significant health risks to the baby like hepatitis B, syphilis and HIV.
Of course, the full list of potential STDs is much longer. Here, we will discuss different conditions that might affect your pregnancy.
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Bacterial STIs are very common, including conditions such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and bacterial vaginosis (BV). With the exception of BV, all of these are caused by the introduction of unwanted bacteria into the organism through unsafe sexual intercourse.
Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and BV have all been known to cause a similar array of issues during pregnancy, including:
- Preterm rupture of the membranes surrounding the baby (waters breaking in layman’s terms)
- Premature birth
In addition to these very serious complications, chlamydia and gonorrhoea can also be passed from the mother to the baby over the course of the conventional vaginal childbirth (as opposed to C-section). In turn, this can cause significant problems to the baby in the form of eye or lung infections.
Untreated syphilis is even greater danger to the developing babies and infants because it can cause premature birth, stillbirth or death of the infant shortly after birth. Even if the newborn survives, multiple complications will usually follow including various organ dysfunctions, serious problems with the brain, eyes, heart, ears, skin, bones or teeth.
On a brighter note, bacterial STDs can be successfully and easily treated during pregnancy in most cases.
Viral STIs are those sexually transmitted diseases that are caused by a virus. These include herpes, genital warts, HIV and hepatitis. These infections have an even greater likelihood of being transmitted to the baby, most commonly during vaginal delivery.
Herpes simplex virus, also known by abbreviation HSV can be a very serious complication if it is passed on to the baby. This is why in cases where mother has herpes outbreak at the moment of giving birth caesarean section is usually advised in order to prevent potential transmission of the virus to the newborn. In infants, HSV can cause very serious health issues like blindness, damage to the nervous system, severe learning difficulties, and sometimes it can even lead to a lethal outcome.
Genital warts are not as dangerous, but can prove problematic, especially since flare-ups are not that uncommon during pregnancy, with warts becoming larger or greater in numbers. In some cases, they might need to be removed prior to giving birth in order to make a vaginal delivery possible at all. This condition is caused by Human papilloma virus (HPV for short) and it can also be passed on to the baby. In very rare cases, it can lead to laryngeal papillomatosis, a condition marked by benign yet unpleasant growth in the baby’s throat.
Hepatitis B is yet another viral STD that can be vertically transferred from the mother to the baby, with the risk significantly increasing if the mother got infected close to the expected delivery time. In some cases, if the doctor decides that the baby is at risk, he might advise an early vaccine which should decrease the chances of serious complications in the following years, including liver disease and even liver cancer.
Finally, the most notorious of all STDs, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV or AIDS) can be passed on from the mother to the baby at any stage of the pregnancy. And it is probably not even needed to discuss the dangers behind this. However, luckily there are many treatments which can minimise this risk. At the moment, according to British HIV Association, the chances of transmission of HIV from mother to the baby are less than 2% with the proper treatment.
STIs and Conception
Naturally, getting infected by an STD can be very worrying for a woman trying to conceive. However, the good news is that the majority of women who receive a timely treatment should not experience any complications in the early pregnancy. At the same time, it is important to note that if left untreated, some STIs can lead to infertility in both men and women. For women, any condition that might damage the fallopian tubes can be a reason for concern as it might make conceiving much more difficult.
On other hand, some STIs also come with a risk of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy in case the infection spreads and reproductive organs in the uterus or cervix become affected. If left untreated, these conditions can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID for short), thus permanently damaging certain vital parts of the female reproductive system. The STIs most commonly linked to these complications are chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
STI-caused complications during pregnancy
It is very common for women to experience flare-up of STIs during pregnancy. In fact, it is not that rare that women with previously dormant infections first became aware of their condition only during pregnancy. Some of the symptoms can be especially uncomfortable during pregnancy when the body is undergoing some dramatic changes. The most uncomfortable can be the emergence of new clusters of genital warts which can, in some rare cases, even block the birth canal, thus making a vaginal delivery borderline impossible.
How to treat STIs during or prior to pregnancy?
Most antibiotic treatments commonly prescribed for the treatment of bacterial STI can be safely used during pregnancy – this includes medicines for chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis. However, if you are currently taking an STI treatment and are planning to conceive, it would be advisable to consult with your doctor or pharmacist so he could advise you on what treatment should you use in the future and when should you start using it.