Written on December 18, 2023 by Amy Harris, MPH, RN. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Unfortunately, being pregnant does not offer you any extra protection against STDs. Untreated sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can put both your pregnancy and your unborn child at risk. Safe sex before you are pregnant and during pregnancy, early STD diagnosis, and effective STD treatment during pregnancy and at delivery can help you avoid the potentially lifelong and incurable impacts of being born with an STD.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that spread through having oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse or intimate physical contact. If a pregnant person has an STD at the time of her pregnancy or childbirth, it is possible, depending on which STD, for her baby to be born with an STD.
The congenital STDs that you can be born with are :
Given that one in five people in the U.S. have an STD on any given day of the year and that many STDs don’t cause recognizable symptoms, having regular STD screening can help you avoid having an STD during your pregnancy.
There are two ways you can be born with the STDs listed above—transmission can occur during pregnancy or in childbirth.
STDs that are viruses (Hepatitis B, C, HIV, and HSV) can be transmitted through a birthing parent's bloodstream, through the placenta, to the developing baby. STDs caused by bacteria, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, can also spread through the blood and some bodily fluids.[3-4]
During childbirth, especially if the baby is born vaginally, passing through the birth canal, open lesions, existing warts, chancres, or other sores caused by HPV, HSV, and syphilis can spread the infection to the baby.
HIV can be spread either through the placenta or as the baby passes through the birth canal. Sometimes healthcare providers will recommend birthing people have a cesarean section (C-section) instead of a vaginal delivery to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV or HSV to their unborn child.
After birth, a breastfeeding mother can transmit HIV and Hepatitis C through her breast milk. It is safe to breastfeed if you have trichomoniasis (after treatment), chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HPV.
If you have herpes or syphilis and have an open sore on your breast postpartum, this can increase your risk of transmitting an STD to your newborn.[1,6] Talk to your pregnancy care provider about ways to safely continue breastfeeding while reducing your risk of STD transmission to your baby.
Having an STD during pregnancy can cause [1,3-4]:
Left untreated, some of these complications can be life-altering and even life-threatening.
If not treated, an STD infection can cause many problems for newborn babies that range from mild to severe, including [1,3-4]:
The takeaway message is that all of these possible complications can be prevented by using barrier methods during pregnancy, going to your regularly scheduled prenatal care visits, and talking with your pregnancy care provider about any signs or symptoms of STDs during pregnancy. STD symptoms may be different when you are pregnant, and STD symptoms may show up at different points in your pregnancy. Many STD symptoms can also be pregnancy symptoms, so it can be hard to tell what is causing what.
Just because you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant anymore does not mean that you can give up using condoms. Condoms or other barrier methods (dental dam) remain one of the cheapest and easiest ways to avoid STDs if you are sexually active during your pregnancy (which most people are). Other tips for safe pregnancy sex include :
Not all STDs have a cure (like HIV), but many do. Many medications used to treat STDs are safe to take during pregnancy, but some may not be. Always be sure to tell your sexual healthcare provider if there is any chance you could be pregnant.
It is safe for you to take antibiotics during pregnancy that can treat your chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas, or syphilis infection.[1,3]
Anti-viral medications can’t cure the STDs caused by viruses (HSV, HPV, HIV, and Hepatitis B and C), but they offer ways to reduce your risk of transmission or keep you and your baby healthier. For example, taking antiretroviral medications (ART) to lower your HIV viral load during pregnancy can nearly eliminate your risk of transmission of HIV to your baby either during pregnancy or delivery.
Similarly, taking anti-viral therapy at the time of your expected due date can prevent you from having a herpes outbreak at delivery and allow you to have a vaginal delivery without infection your baby with herpes.
Given that almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, you may not know that you are pregnant at the time that you get diagnosed with an STI. Everlywell can help by offering accessible, confidential at-home STD testing, so you are less likely to be surprised by an STD.
While we can’t provide the regular prenatal care that has been shown to be an important part of healthy pregnancies, Everlywell can provide support and information to help you be your healthiest before you even get pregnant. We offer supplements, online STD consults, and a variety of women’s health and fertility tests to keep you feeling your best.
Amy Harris, MPH, RN has a master's degree in Maternal and Child Health from Harvard T. Chan School of Public Health. She attended Yale School of Nursing and Boston University School of Public Health to become a certified nurse midwife (CNM). She has worked for over 20 years in clinical and public health practice. She specializes in women's reproductive health care, healthy literacy, and writing about health and wellness.