When someone contracts a sexually transmitted disease, they put others they have sexual contact with at risk of getting the disease as well. When a woman with an STD is pregnant, she puts her unborn child at risk. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a pregnant woman with an STD could pass the disease on to her child before, during or after labor. For example, HIV and syphilis can be transmitted before birth through the placenta. Both HIV and Hepatitis B can be transmitted to the baby after birth through breast milk. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can be passed to the baby during labor, according to Johnny El-Rady, a USF biology instructor.
Since Chlamydia and gonorrhea are commonly asymptomatic, laws have been passed to protect newborns from contracting infections caused by these STDs, like conjunctivitis, a common eye infection transmitted during birth.
“By law, it is required that (doctors) put antibiotic eye drops (in the baby’s eyes) regardless of whether the mother has (Chlamydia or gonorrhea),” said El-Rady.
In some cases, STDs can cause complications during pregnancy. Some STDs can lead to ectopic, or tubal, pregnancy, which leads to the death of the fetus, El-Rady said.
In other cases, the CDC reports that STDs in babies can cause stillbirth, infections in the blood stream, damage to the brain, low birth weight, blindness or deafness.
To prevent the transmission of a disease to a fetus, women should be tested for STDs during prenatal care. They should also steer away from risky sexual behavior such as unprotected sex. Pregnant women who have an STD may be able to get treatment during pregnancy. However, some STDs, such as HIV and genital herpes, cannot be cured and the CDC recommends that women with these diseases consider a Caesarian birth. A C-section can help prevent the newborn from contracting these diseases.
In addition, some medications may be able to reduce the symptoms of these diseases. Bacterial infections, like Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis can be treated with medications. Some medications for these STDs can cause harm to the developing fetus, so it is wise to consult your doctor before taking them.