STDs and Pregnancy

STDs and Pregnancy

Sexually transmitted disease (STD) detection and treatment is important in all reproductive stages, pregnant or not pregnant. In fact, comprehensive prenatal care should include STD testing.1 If sexually transmitted infections are left untreated, they can lead to negative health outcomes for both mother and baby.2 Pregnant women may be less likely to prioritize STD screenings, but prenatal STD screenings remain paramount for a healthy pregnancy and baby and should be done early in pregnancy and again in the third trimester.1

Pregnancy Complications

Undetected and untreated STDs may lead to pregnancy complications, which is why it is important that your healthcare provider makes STD testing an important part of your prenatal care. Some STDs are easily treated with antibiotics, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis.1 Other viral STDs are not as easy to treat. Genital herpes, hepatitis B, and HIV can’t be cured, but in some cases these viral infections can be treated with antiviral medications and other preventive measures to help reduce the risk of passing the infection to the baby.1

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea

Women with chlamydial and gonococcal infections are commonly asymptomatic, making screenings by your healthcare provider important. If these infections are allowed to progress untreated in pregnancy, they may lead to premature delivery, premature rupture of the membranes, low birth weight, and stillbirth.2 In addition, maternal infection has been shown to lead to infant conjunctivitis (pink eye) infections (termed ophthalmia neonatorum in the first four weeks of life).2


Syphilis is an important risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes.2 Prenatal syphilis screenings are important because if a maternal infection is left untreated it may lead to fetal death or preterm birth.2 Physical and mental developmental disabilities have also been reported in a proportion of cases of congenital syphilis.2 Congenital syphilis is easily preventable if the correct prenatal tests are performed by your healthcare provider early in pregnancy.2,3

Herpes Simplex Virus

Although very common, herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections can have serious implications for pregnant women and their babies.2 Infant transmission risk is greatest when the mother’s first HSV infection occurs during late pregnancy.2,4 The infection is typically transmitted to the infant from cervical or vaginal infected secretions during delivery.2 If transmission occurs, neonatal herpes can be a severe illness that effects the respiratory system, liver, and cause vesicular lesions, among other things.2,5

Preventative screenings are critical for early STD detection. The earlier an STD is detected, the sooner you and your healthcare provider can work together to treat the infection to minimize risk of transmitting it to your baby. If you feel like your provider is not including STD tests in your prenatal care, don’t be afraid to speak up and discuss your options. STD tests are part of a complete reproductive health assessment and should be maintained during pregnancy.

References: 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). STDs during Pregnancy – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). Website. Last updated February 11, 2016. Reviewed April 17, 2019. 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2017. STDs in Women and Infants. Website. Last updated July 24, 2018. Reviewed April 17, 2019. 3. Kidd SE, Bowen VB, Torrone EA, et al. Use of national syphilis surveillance data to develop a congenital syphilis prevention cascade and estimate the number of potential congenital syphilis cases averted. Sex Transm Dis 2018; DOI: 10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000838. [Epub ahead of print]. 4. Corey L, Wald A. Maternal and neonatal herpes simplex virus infections. N Engl J Med 2009; 361(14):1376–1385. 5. Kimberlin DW. Herpes simplex virus infections of the newborn. Semin Perinatol 2007; 31(1):19–25.

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