Pregnant woman on bed smiling and wondering about STD while pregnant

What happens if you have an STD while pregnant?

Medically reviewed on October 14, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. 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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Finding out you’re pregnant can be an exciting milestone in your life. But if you know or suspect you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) like herpes, hepatitis B, or syphilis, you may instead be wondering if your STD can affect your pregnancy.

The answer is: it depends. While some STDs pose little-to-no risk for pregnant people or their unborn children, other STDs can lead to complications during or after pregnancy.

In this short guide, we’re looking at everything you need to know if you have (or think you may have) an STD while pregnant.

How does having an STD while pregnant affect you?

First and foremost, STDs can cause a handful of health issues—regardless of whether you’re pregnant or not. You can get sexually transmitted diseases through unprotected sexual contact, or participating in either oral, vaginal, or anal sexual activity. Many sexually transmitted diseases are “silent” (symptom-free), but others can lead to problems like:

  • Pain during sex or urination
  • Itchiness
  • Redness or inflammation
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal discharge and odor
  • Sores, warts, and/or blisters

When you’re pregnant, an STD may increase the likelihood of going into premature labor. Pregnancy typically lasts 40 weeks, but when you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it may cause delivery of the baby before 37 weeks.

What is the most common STD? It is important to become aware of the most common STDs and their coinciding symptoms and/or consequences. More common STDs like syphilis and/or gonorrhea may cause pelvic inflammatory disease, resulting in some cases in an ectopic pregnancy[1] and, in rare cases, maternal pelvic structural anomalies.[2] However, STDs can have minimal to no symptoms at all. How long can a STD stay dormant without symptoms? It depends on the STD type. An untreated STD can have serious consequences, especially during pregnancy.

What about during delivery?

The presence of some STDs can also impact the baby’s delivery.

For example, having genital herpes may lead to a change in how your baby is delivered. If you have active herpes lesions on your genitals, your child could become infected during childbirth. To avoid this possibility, some healthcare providers suggest a cesarean birth (C-section), which carries different risks than a vaginal delivery.[3]

What about the postnatal stage?

Even after you deliver your baby, some risks are associated with having an STD.

For one, people who give birth with an STD may be more likely to suffer from a uterus (womb) infection.

What’s more, STDs can make breastfeeding more complicated. Those with HIV should not breastfeed, while those with syphilis or herpes should take extreme care to keep the baby and all pumping equipment away from sores. Breastfeeding with HPV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea is safe.

Finally, because having an STD while pregnant can trigger premature birth, you may be at a higher risk of developing mood disorders. To that end, there’s evidence to suggest that mothers of premature infants experience higher rates of postpartum depression and anxiety.[4]

How does having an STD while pregnant affect the baby?

Having an STD while pregnant can also impact your child’s health, although most issues do not occur until during or after delivery.

However, STDs like HIV or syphilis can cross the placenta during pregnancy. When this occurs, your unborn child can become infected before birth. Babies born with congenital syphilis may be stillborn or die due to the infection. Babies with congenital syphilis can have deformed bones, severe anemia, liver and spleen issues, brain issues, and more.[5]

What about during delivery?

or the baby, most of the risks associated with STDs and pregnancy don’t occur until delivery. Several STDs can be passed from mother to baby during childbirth. These include:

  • Gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia infection
  • Genital herpes
  • Hepatitis B

Because many STDs show little-to-no symptoms, children who acquire an STD at birth may go years without a proper diagnosis.

What about the postnatal stage?

As mentioned, having an STD during pregnancy may increase your risk of delivering the baby early. Babies born preterm are more likely to experience health issues such as:[6]

  • Breathing problems
  • Issues with vision and hearing
  • Developmental delay
  • Cerebral palsy

Even if you don’t give birth prematurely, passing an STD to your child can still lead to undesired health effects. Potential health issues for children born with an STD include:[7]

  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Blood infection
  • Eye infection
  • Brain damage

Treating STDs during pregnancy

While it’s clear that having an STD while pregnant can have negative effects on the mother and child, don’t let these facts alarm you. Most STDs are simple enough to treat, even during pregnancy.

The following STDs—which rank among the most common—can be treated with antibiotics that are safe to take during pregnancy:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Syphilis
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

Other STDs—such as HIV, hepatitis B, and genital herpes—cannot be cured, but you can take antiviral medications while pregnant to decrease the risk of passing the STD to your child.[8] Your healthcare provider will be able to prescribe you the necessary medications.

Test for STDs before, during, or after pregnancy

Whether you’re actively trying to become pregnant, or you already are, it’s in your best interest—and your future baby’s best interest—to treat any sexually transmitted infections or diseases as soon as possible. However, because so many STDs can exist without symptoms, the only way to know for sure if you have an STD is through STD testing.

While you can go to a clinic for STD testing you can skip the line by taking an at-home STD test from Everlywell.

With a range of at-home sexual health tests available, you can comfortably and conveniently test for STDs anytime and anywhere. We’ll send you everything you need in discreet packaging—all you have to do is mail back your sample and wait.

In a few days, you’ll receive your test results. From there, you and your healthcare provider can make the necessary choices for you and your baby’s well-being.

How long can an STD stay dormant without symptoms?

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  1. Pelvic inflammatory disease | Published April 2019. URL. Accessed October 14, 2022.
  2. Marcinkowski KA, Mehta V, Mercier R, Berghella V. Pelvic inflammatory disease in pregnancy: a systematic review focusing on perinatal outcomes. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology MFM. 2022;4(4):100643. doi:10.1016/j.ajogmf.2022.100643 Accessed October 14, 2022.
  3. C-Section (Cesarean Birth): Procedure & Risks. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed October 14, 2022.
  4. Trumello C, Candelori C, Cofini M, et al. Mothers’ Depression, Anxiety, and Mental Representations After Preterm Birth: A Study During the Infant’s Hospitalization in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Frontiers in Public Health. 2018;6. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2018.00359 Accessed October 14, 2022.
  5. CDC. STD Facts - Congenital Syphilis. Published 2019. URL. Accessed October 14, 2022.
  6. CDC. Preterm birth. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Published 2019. URL. Accessed October 14, 2022.
  7. STIs, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. Published June 3, 2017. URL. Accessed October 14, 2022.
  8. STD Facts - STDs & Pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published 2020. URL. Accessed October 14, 2022.
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