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STIs/STDs during pregnancy

Karolina Baker, Alphabiolabs

By Karolina Baker, Health Testing Specialist at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 24/11/2022

In this guide, we discuss STIs during pregnancy, how certain STIs can affect your pregnancy, and why STI testing is important for expectant mothers.
Table of contents
  • What is a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
  • Can I get an STI/STD when I am pregnant?
  • Will I be offered STI/STD tests during pregnancy?
  • How can I get tested for STIs/STDs during pregnancy?
  • I’m pregnant. Should I be tested for STIs/STDs?
  • How do STIs/STDs affect your pregnancy?
  • How can you prevent getting STIs/STDs when you are pregnant?
  • Can I pass an STI/STD to my unborn baby?
  • How can an STI/STD affect my unborn baby?
  • Can I breastfeed when I have an STI/STD?
  • Is it safe to have treatment for STIs/STDs while pregnant?

What is a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) – sometimes referred to as a sexually transmitted disease (STD) – is an infection that is most commonly passed on during sexual activity, especially if unprotected.

This can include infections that are transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, sexual touching, or via oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Some STIs can even be passed on to unborn babies during pregnancy and childbirth.

Can I get an STI/STD when I am pregnant?

It is possible to catch an STI/STD at any time if you have unprotected sex – even when you are pregnant.

Being pregnant does not provide any extra protection against STIs for women or their unborn babies. In fact, certain STIs can be passed on from mothers to their unborn babies during childbirth and even while they are still in the womb.

For this reason, the NHS routinely offers pregnant women blood tests to screen for certain STIs, ideally by 10 weeks into the pregnancy.

Will I be offered STI/STD tests during pregnancy?

Alongside routine antenatal checks and tests including urine tests, weight and height checks, and blood pressure tests, you will also be offered several blood tests during pregnancy to assess the health of you and your baby.

These blood tests are highly recommended but are entirely voluntary, and include screening for three infectious diseases that can be passed on during sexual activity including:

Your midwife will usually discuss these screening tests with you during your booking appointment, before 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Because these infections can be passed to your baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding, getting tested can give you peace of mind if the test results show that you are clear of any infection, or help you seek the correct treatment as soon as possible if an infection is detected in your blood sample.

How can I get tested for STIs/STDs during pregnancy?

If you are pregnant and experiencing symptoms that could indicate you have an STI, we recommend contacting your doctor, midwife, or local sexual health clinic as soon as possible for guidance on confirmatory testing and treatment.

This is because, if left untreated, some STIs can cause serious complications for you and your unborn baby.

The NHS recommends that pregnant women are screened for HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis. This blood test is usually offered before 10 weeks of pregnancy, at the booking appointment with your midwife.

If you do not have symptoms and simply want an STI test for your own peace of mind, you can also get tested at your local sexual health clinic.

Another option is to order an at-home STI test online to test for other infections that the NHS does not routinely screen for during pregnancy.

I’m pregnant. Should I be tested for STIs/STDs?

If you are pregnant, the NHS recommends that you are tested for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B – three infections that can be passed on during sexual activity.

This is because, if left undiagnosed and untreated, these infections can cause serious health complications for you and your unborn baby.

You will usually be offered screening tests for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B, along with other blood tests, when meeting your midwife at your booking appointment (before 10 weeks of pregnancy).

If you are experiencing symptoms, or just want further testing for your own peace of mind, you may also want to order an at-home STI test to screen for other infections that the NHS does not routinely test for during pregnancy, including chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

How do STIs/STDs affect your pregnancy?

The effect that an STI can have on your pregnancy depends on which infection you have, and how soon you are able to seek confirmatory testing and treatment for the infection.

Many of the symptoms associated with STIs will be the same whether you are pregnant or not. However, some STIs can cause health complications for your unborn baby if left undiagnosed and untreated.

Examples include:

  • Premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
  • Low birth weight
  • Developmental problems
  • Infections including pneumonia, blood, and eye infections
  • Brain damage
  • Blindness/deafness

Some STIs, such as trichomoniasis, mycoplasma hominis, and herpes, can also make you more susceptible to catching HIV, which can then be passed to your baby during pregnancy.

How can you prevent getting STIs/STDs when you are pregnant?

You can reduce the risk of catching STIs while pregnant by using condoms every time you have sex. This includes vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

If you and/or your partner are having regular sex with multiple partners – especially if unprotected – regular STI testing can also help you keep your sexual health in check.

If an infection is detected during testing, this will also enable you to seek treatment for the infection more quickly, reducing the likelihood of complications for you and your unborn baby.

Can I pass an STI/STD to my unborn baby?

Certain STIs/STDs can be passed on to your baby during pregnancy and childbirth. These include:

HIV and syphilis can cross the placenta and infect the baby in the womb or during delivery. Gonorrhoea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and genital herpes can all be passed to your baby during birth (through the birth canal).

How can an STI/STD affect my unborn baby?

Some STIs/STDs can cause serious problems for your unborn baby. This can include everything from infections to deafness/blindness, brain damage, developmental problems, preterm/premature labour (before 37 weeks), or even stillbirth.

If you are pregnant and have an STI, your doctor, midwife, or local sexual health clinic will be able to provide guidance on next steps and treatment, to reduce the likelihood of complications.

Can I breastfeed when I have an STI/STD?

Whether or not you can breastfeed your new baby while you have an STI depends on which infection you have.

Your doctor, midwife or local sexual health clinic will be able to provide advice and guidance on whether you are able to breastfeed.

Is it safe to have treatment for STIs/STDs while pregnant?

Treatment for STIs during pregnancy depends entirely on which infection you have.

For certain infections including HIV, hepatitis B and genital herpes, antiviral medications and other treatments can be offered to reduce the risk of these infections being passed on to your baby.

If you are pregnant and have been diagnosed as having an STI, your doctor or local sexual health clinic will be able to advise you on the most suitable treatment for the infection.

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Karolina Baker

Karolina Baker

Health Testing Specialist at AlphaBiolabs

Karolina joined AlphaBiolabs in 2021, and holds the role of Health Testing Specialist.

As well as overseeing a range of health tests, Karolina plays an active role in the research and development of the company’s latest health test offerings.

Before joining AlphaBiolabs, Karolina worked as an Associate Practitioner at Mid-Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and as a research assistant at the Turner Laboratory, within the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health at The University of Manchester.

Karolina’s main scientific interests include clinical genomics and genetic diagnostics. Her qualifications include a BSc in Molecular Biology and an MSc in Genomic Medicine.

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