Infections may be no big deal—but during pregnancy, they can lead to serious health problems for you and your baby.
Illnesses that do not cause symptoms can cause birth defects, miscarriage and stillbirth.
In this post, we’re listing 7 pregnancy infections that can affect your baby.
7 Pregnancy Infections that Harm Your Baby
Some of these infections may not cause harm for most people, but during pregnancy, they pose a risk for your baby.
Although most people recover from COVID-19, pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness from it. They also may be at an increased risk for preterm birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
You can limit your exposure to the novel coronavirus by:
- Wearing a mask when you cannot physically distance
- Keeping 6 feet between you and people outside your home
- Washing your hands with soap and using hand sanitizer frequently
- Talk to your doctorif you’re considering a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy
#2 Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
About 1 million women get bacterial vaginosis (BV) each year, according to the CDC. The infection happens when there’s too much of some bacteria in the vagina. The vagina has a normal balance of bacteria and when it’s disrupted, problems can arise.
BV makes a woman more likely to have premature labor or a baby with a low birth weight. The infection could be dangerous for you too. BV can cause pelvic inflammatory diseases, which can make infertility more likely.
Symptoms of BV include:
- Fishy smell
- Discharge that’s white, gray or green
- Burning sensation when peeing
Although some symptoms can be similar to a yeast infection, there are differences. For example, BV has a fishy odor that becomes stronger after sex.
BV isn’t an STI, but it’s more common in sexually active women. There’s a lot experts don’t understand about the infection, but it’s clear it occurs from an imbalance of bacteria. You may be at a higher risk for BV if you:
- Have a new sex partner
- Have multiple sex partners
- Used scented vaginal products, soaps, bubble baths, detergents, etc.
BV is typically treated with antibiotics which can be in the form of a capsule or topical cream. If you think you have the infection, you should see your doctor as soon as you can to limit the risk for you and your baby.
Toxoplasmosis is caused by a specific type of parasite. According to the CDC, more than 40 million people in the U.S. may be infected with it. You can get the infection by:
- Eating infected uncooked meat
- Coming into contact with cat feces (ex. changing the litter box, gardening where cat feces is, anything that comes into contact with cat feces, etc.)
Even though a person can live with it in their body their whole life, they usually won’t experience any symptoms. That’s because a healthy immune system will balance out its effect. However, since you experience immune system changes during pregnancy, you’re more likely to experience problems. If a person does have symptoms, they’ll likely be similar to the flu.
Toxoplasmosis doesn’t always, but can transfer to the unborn baby, called “congenital toxoplasmosis.” The effects depend on how far along you were when you got the infection. It may cause miscarriage, stillbirth and damage to a baby’s organs.
If you think you have the infection, your doctor will suggest a blood test. If it’s positive, they’ll likely prescribe an antibiotic that can make it less likely you’ll pass it onto the baby. However, if your baby already has the infection, they cannot reverse any effects.
To prevent toxoplasmosis:
- Use gloves when cleaning or near cat feces and wash your hands after
- Ensure cats aren’t tracking feces from their litter box onto surfaces, like tables
- Only eat cooked meat
Getting chickenpox during childhood is normal and typically harmless. However, during pregnancy, the infection can pose a threat to you and your baby. The chickenpox virus is spread by air when someone sneezes or coughs. You can also get it from contact with saliva or chickenpox blister fluid.
People are most contagious before they get a rash, meaning that you might not know they’re infected when you get the virus.
Symptoms of chickenpox during pregnancy include:
- Loss of appetite
- Itchy rashes (these appear after a few days)
Chickenpox can be spread to a baby before birth and can lead to birth defects. The severity of the risk depends on timing. During the first 20 weeks, there’s a slight risk of rare defects. If you get the infection in the days leading up to labor, your baby could be born with neonatal varicella, a life-threatening infection.
For this reason, a pregnant woman should see a doctor immediately. He or she might prescribe an oral antiviral drug. Luckily, chickenpox is most common in children. Most adults have already had it and are vaccinated against it, making it unlikely they’ll get the virus during adulthood.
#5 CMV (Cytomegalovirus)
Although you may not have heard of it, CMV is a common virus among children. It’s part of the herpes family and can cause cold sores. You can get it by sharing bacteria with a young child, such as kissing or sharing cutlery with them.
Most healthy children and adults who get CMV show no symptoms. Instead, the infection usually remains inactive in their body for life. CMV can be a problem for pregnant women who have never had the virus. There’s a risk it may cause visual, hearing and learning birth defects as well as conditions such as epilepsy or cerebral palsy.
To prevent CMV, you can do a few things while pregnant:
- Avoid kissing children on the face
- Wash hands with soap regularly—especially when around children
- Don’t put toys in your mouth
- Don’t share utensils, cups, dishes or toothbrushes with children
- Follow these tips especially if you work with or have young children
#6 Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a group of infections that often have no symptoms, meaning you may not know when you have one. Typically, you can go to the doctor’s and have an STI treated. However, they pose more of a risk during pregnancy. If you think you have an STI, you should see your doctor ASAP.
Many women get tested for STIs during their first pregnancy visit to ensure there’s no issues. If your doctor doesn’t, you can always request a test. STIs that can affect your baby include:
- HIV—HIV can be passed onto your baby. If you know you have it early on, you can take steps to try to prevent transmission.
- Hepatitis B—Hepatitis B is the biggest risk to your baby if you become infected leading up to delivery.
- Hepatitis C— Hepatitis Cmay put your baby at a bigger risk for preterm delivery and low birth weight.
- Chlamydia—Chlamydia is one of the riskiest STIs for women because it has been linked to preterm labor, low birth weight and premature rupture of the membranes. It can also be passed to your baby through vaginal delivery. Since it can be treated during pregnancy with an antibiotic, contact your doctor immediately if you suspect you have it.
- Gonorrhea— This STI can also be passed onto the baby during delivery. It has been linked to premature rupture of the membranes, low birth weight and premature birth.
- Syphilis—Syphilis can cause stillbirth, premature birth and death after birth.
To prevent STIs during pregnancy, ensure your partner is uninfected and use condoms and dental dams.
#7 Yeast Infection
Compared to all the pregnancy infections on this list, a yeast infection doesn’t pose a serious health risk to your baby. And that’s a good thing—because yeast infections are very common during pregnancy.
They’re important to treat because if you have the infection during labor, you can pass it onto your baby. This can cause thrush, which looks like white patches in your baby’s mouth. These can be passed back and forth during breastfeeding.
To treat yeast infections during pregnancy, you can use an over-the-counter cream. It’s typically recommended that pregnant women avoid antifungals like fluconazole (Diflucan) in the first trimester. However, it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor to check so they can confirm it’s a yeast infection and not something else.
Read: Yeast Infection Treatment During Pregnancy: Full Guide to Stop Itching
Summary of Pregnancy Infections that Harm the Baby
We’ve listed the infections you need to especially watch out for during pregnancy. Although some may seem harmless, they can put your baby at risk for birth defects, miscarriage and stillbirth. If you think you have any of the infections in this post, contact your doctor ASAP.
P.S. Hear Your Baby’s Heartbeat from Home. Get the Fetal Doppler!