Infections That Can Affect a Pregnancy and Their Potential Impact

Pregnant woman

It's hard enough to handle all the physical changes of pregnancy as it is, and then to be sick with something that can make you feel worse - wow!! That's just tough, especially when you need to worry about your developing baby's health as much as your own. Fortunately, you may already be immune to a number of contagious diseases, and, thanks to successful vaccination programs in many countries of the world, many of the serious diseases that we used to worry about are completely gone.

You can also take comfort in the fact that most babies aren't harmed at all while in utero by most types of illness or even vaginal infections. It is also rare for an infant to become infected during the birth process. However, there are some infections that can be transmitted to babies through the placenta or during birth, and when that happens, it may have serious consequences for the baby. What's more, some infections can make you sicker if you get them when you're pregnant.

Although you can't avoid all sources of infections while you're pregnant, you can take certain steps to make it less likely that you'll get sick and to reduce the risk of serious problems for you or your baby if you do get an infection.

Finding a good physician so you feel comfortable and can get good prenatal care is really important, as simple blood tests can tell you whether you're immune to certain infections, such as chicken pox and rubella. You'll also be tested for infections you may not know you have, including urinary tract infections, group B strep, hepatitis B, and HIV. If you think you've been exposed to a serious infection or you become ill, getting care in a timely manner can often help prevent complications.

You can do a number of other things on your own, like washing your hands, not sharing drinking glasses or utensils, not changing cat litter, using gloves when gardening, and staying away from anyone with a contagious disease. These will all reduce your risk of getting sick. Continuing to practice safe sex, if you are not in a stable relationship, will help prevent many sexually transmitted infections. Many women don't realize that seemingly little things like dental problems and gum disease, can transfer bacteria to the bloodstream and therefore to the baby. You must avoid food-borne infections too, by watching what you eat and avoiding eating certain foods. Take care to wash fruits and vegetables, and make sure that your meat, fish, and eggs are well cooked. Ensure your work surfaces where you cut your meat, fruits and vegetables are very clean and not contaminated with foods that had been cut there previously.

Here's a list of some of the infections that can affect a pregnancy and their potential impact:

• Bacterial Vaginosis - pre-term labor

• Chicken Pox - If mom has at the time of birth, it can cause pneumonia in mom or newborn, but because of the baby’s immature immune system, the infection can cause fetal or newborn death. Chickenpox acquired by mom in the 1st trimester can result in fetal birth defects (small head, deformed limbs, skin scarring & mental retardation)

• Chlamydia - the leading cause of blindness in newborns

• Cytomegalovirus - a known cause of deafness in newborns, facial abnormalities, small head, retinal problems & mental retardation

• Fifth's Disease (Parvovirus) - If passed to the fetus, it can cause miscarriage, anemia, heart abnormalities and birth defects

• Flu - dehydration & pre-term labor

• Gonorrhea - pneumonia in newborn

• Vaginal Group B Strep - pneumonia and meningitis in newborns; one of the main causes of death in the 1st month after birth

• Hepatitis B - can be passed to the newborn through mother's bloodstream

• Herpes - Newborn meningitis, and other infections that usually lead to death

• HIV - can be passed to newborn through mother's bloodstream

• Listeriosis - From eating meats and dairy products; also can be acquired during Water Birth, as baby can swallow or aspirate contaminated water during delivery

• Rubella (German measles)

• Syphilis - active and acquired during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or severe mental retardation, joint abnormalities and severe facial scarring, corneal clouding, cataracts and bone pain

• Toxoplasmosis - from cat feces and soil; can cause birth defects, deafness, blindness, hydrocephalus, anemia & seizures

• Trichomoniasis - preterm labor and premature rupture of membranes

• Urinary Tract Infections - pre-term labor

So if you're sick or think you've been exposed to a contagious disease, let your doctor know, so you can be tested and, if necessary, treated as quickly as possible. I know it seems strange to be tested for so many things when you're pregnant. Especially sexually transmitted diseases when you are in a happy, stable relationship. It has little to do with your current relationship, and more to do with an overall screening that can review your health for past infections that could harm your pregnancy. And come on girls, we've all been in those relationships where we were just sure he was faithful, right? I just hate that!!! I hate being the bearer of bad news, too, and I have never had a pregnant patient who was prepared to hear, "You have chlamydia and your 'Herpes Select' came up positive too."

I'm sorry, is it just me, or am I just so out of the loop that I can't understand why, if a man is going to cheat on his pregnant wife, why he wouldn't think, "I better use a condom just in case, so I don't give my pregnant wife an infection." Oh yeah, that's right, why would they even be thinking at that point or have a concern, because if there were a concern, they wouldn't be cheating in the first place, silly me.

The moral of the story from someone who has seen more than she has ever wanted to: Most husbands are loving and caring but you always have to put yourself and your unborn child first. It's your job to eat well, exercise, rest and protect yourself from infections for your good and the good of your baby.
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