If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, it is very important that you be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Each year in the United States, about 19 million individuals contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI). STIs are infections a person can get by having sex (genital, oral or anal) with someone who has one of these infections. Many infected individuals do not know they have an STI because some STIs cause no symptoms.
STIs pose special risks for pregnant women and their babies. These infections can cause:
• Ectopic pregnancy (when the embryo implants outside of the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube)
• Preterm delivery (before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
• Birth defects
• Illness in the newborn period (first month of life)
If STIs are not diagnosed and treated, they can be passed from the mother to the baby. Most frequently a baby becomes infected during delivery, while passing through an infected birth canal. But a few of these infections can cross the placenta and infect the baby while the baby is still in utero. And in many cases the signs and symptoms of STIs are so mild that a woman may not even know that she is infected.
During one of your first prenatal visits, your health care provider will test you for some STIs, such as HIV and syphilis. Some STIs, such as syphilis, can be cured with drug treatment. But others, such as HIV, cannot be cured.
However, if a woman does have an STI that cannot be cured, steps usually can be taken to protect her baby. For instance, a woman with HIV can be started on a group of drugs called antiretrovirals. The use of these drugs during pregnancy will significantly reduce the chances that her baby will be become infected with HIV. If women take these drugs before and during birth, and their babies are given drugs after birth, HIV transmission is reduced from 25% (with no treatment) to less than 2%.
Your partner should also be tested and treated and you should not have sex until your treatment is complete and your health care provider has said that it is OK. Make sure that you are honest with your health care provider about your risk factors for STIs. This will help to ensure that you get the appropriate testing and therefore treatment to protect you and your baby.
For more information about some common STIs you can go to our website.
Updated November 2015.