Pregnancy does not protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In fact, they can cause serious complications for you and your unborn child if left untreated.
Here are some of the most common questions we receive about pregnancy and STIs. Brush up on your knowledge to give yourself and your baby the healthiest possible pregnancy.
Q: Can I be infected with an STI while I’m pregnant?
A: Yes. Women who are pregnant can contract the same STIs as women who aren’t pregnant, including HIV. STIs can be spread through any kind of skin-to-skin contact, including foreplay, oral sex, vaginal and anal sex, as well as anything else that includes the swapping or mixing of semen, vaginal fluids, blood and/or other discharges.
You can also spread STIs when using your fingers and/or unsterilised sex toys.
Pregnancy complications are one of the most common and serious side effects of many STIs.
You must continue to practise safe sex throughout your pregnancy.
Q: What are the most common STIs in South Africa?
A: If you’re participating in unsafe sex practises, the STIs you’re most at risk of contracting include:
- Hepatitis B
- Trichomonas (also known as ‘trich’)
Q: How do I know if I have an STI?
A: Symptoms of STIs may include genital itching or burning, unusual discharge, genital sores or warts, and/or pain.
However, some STIs have no symptoms at all, which means that if you’ve had unsafe sex, it’s critical that you get tested. Even if you don’t feel unwell or have any noticeable symptoms, you may still be infected.
Because STIs can be so dangerous during pregnancy, your doctor or gynae is likely to screen you for many of them during your first prenatal visit. This is one of the reasons this appointment is so important. You should also tell your doctor about any STIs you’ve previously been diagnosed with.
Q: How can STIs affect me and my unborn baby?
A: A woman who is infected with an STI can pass the infection on to her unborn baby during pregnancy or when the baby passes through the vagina during birth.
This is especially likely with HIV. Some HIV positive babies have symptoms of the disease, while others don’t show symptoms straight away. HIV positive babies and children have weakened immune systems, are prone to illness, and may have a short (or shorter) life expectancy.
Syphilis can cause miscarriages or stillbirth (when the baby dies in the womb), and babies who are born with the disease may show serious symptoms only months or years later.
STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause eye infections and possibly lead to blindness in your baby, while hepatitis B can cause long-term liver damage in your baby.
Q: Are there STI treatments that are safe for pregnant women?
A: Yes. Your doctor, clinic or gynae will be able to advise you on a safe and effective course of treatment. This will help keep you and your baby as healthy as possible, and reduce the risk of passing STIs and HIV on to your baby.
STI screenings and pregnancy care at Marie Stopes
There are Marie Stopes centres all over South Africa. Visit your most convenient branch for confidential STI screening and treatment, as well as pregnancy care, advice and guidance.