Common Infections During Pregnancy

Most pregnant women are skeptical about contracting infections and how such infections might affect the developing baby.

Vaginal infections, including yeast infections, are common during pregnancy and are usually not a cause for concern. However, there may be complications attached to uterine infections.

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Vaginal infections during pregnancy

A pregnant woman may be more exposed to certain infections, and if left untreated, may lead to serious complications. Anyone who has even a minor infection during pregnancy should see a doctor or a certified midwife. Typical vaginal infections during pregnancy include:

Vaginal yeast infections

Vaginal yeast infections are caused by a fungus called Candida which tend to occur during pregnancy because of changes in the immune system, increased production of glycogen, and higher levels of estrogen.

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According to a 2015 report, about 20 percent of all women have Candida, which rises to 30 percent during pregnancy. It tends to be more common during the second and third trimesters. The most common symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include:

  • itchiness around the vagina or vulva
  • pain or burning sensation during sexual intercourse
  • a thick, white, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge
  • an odor of bread or beer coming from the vagina
  • pain or burning in or around the vagina

People can use prescription or OTC medications to treat a vaginal yeast infection. But a pregnant woman should first consult a doctor or midwife before using these drugs.

It is essential to get a diagnosis before beginning treatment as other infections, such as bacterial vaginosis and chlamydia, can be mixed up with yeast infections.

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an easily treated bacterial infection in the vagina. Symptoms include:

  • itching or pain in the vagina or vulva
  • a fishy odor
  • a bad smell that gets worse after sexual intercourse
  • a large amount of thin, grey colored discharge

If BV is left untreated during pregnancy, it might cause preterm labor, premature birth, and lower birth weight babies.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS)

Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a group of bacteria that are recurrent in the body but more frequent the vagina and rectum. They do not typically cause symptoms or even an infection. However, women who have GBS in their bodies when they give birth may transfer it to their babies.

Some mothers who have GBS will pass it on to their babies, GBS in a newborn can be fatal. Testing late in pregnancy can detect GBS, and is a standard part of most prenatal care.

Treatment with antibiotics through a needle in a vein (IV antibiotics) can considerably reduce the risk of a GBS infection being passed on to the baby.

Uterine infections during pregnancy

A uterine infection can be dangerous for different reasons. The infection may affect the placenta, harm the developing baby, cause premature labor, or lead to birth abnormalities.

Some women experience organ failure and other deadly complications during labor as a result of uterine infections.

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Uterine infections often develop when bacteria from the vagina travels to the uterus, so an untreated vaginal infection is a risk factor for uterine infections. A person is more prone to uterine infections if their membranes break during an extended labor.

Treatment includes antibiotics and may require hospitalization. If a fever develops during labor, a doctor or midwife will monitor the fetus. If the symptoms are serious, a cesarean delivery may be advised by the doctor.

Other infections during pregnancy

Hormone-related skin changes during pregnancy can cause conditions such as eczema or a very dry skin. If the skin cracks open and bleeds, a serious skin infection, such as cellulitis, can develop. A rare skin disorder called Sweet’s syndrome is also common during pregnancy than at other times.

Some other infections that may be more serious during pregnancy include:

  • the flu
  • hepatitis E, which is a typically mild viral form of hepatitis
  • herpes, including herpes simplex virus (HSV) and varicella zoster virus (VZV)
  • Listeria, which can cause food poisoning
  • measles
  • HIV

The increased risk of these infections during pregnancy is not well understood but may be due to hormone and other changes that alter the number of blood cells in the body. For example, late in pregnancy, T cells that help fight infection decreases in number.

Pregnancy also causes increased blood circulation and demands on the heart. These demands can also aggravate complications.

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Some medications that can efficiently treat common infections may be unsafe during pregnancy. So it is vital that pregnant people who have an infection discuss with their doctor or midwife to weigh up the benefits and risks of various treatment options.

How do maternal infections affect the baby?

Infections can affect a developing baby in one of three ways:

  • They may harm the mother, making her body less able to nurture the baby or requiring drugs that may harm the baby.
  • They can directly harm the baby by causing changes that lead to birth defects.
  • They can trigger premature labor or a miscarriage.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), infections that are known to harm the developing baby include, but are not exclusive to:

  • bacterial vaginosis
  • contagious diseases, such as syphilis, herpes, hepatitis, and HIV, which can infect the fetus
  • chlamydia, which can cause eye infections and pneumonia
  • gonorrhea, which can contaminate the amniotic fluid, cause preterm labor, and lead to eye infections
  • fifth disease, which can trigger a miscarriage or cause fetal anemia
  • group B streptococcus, which can cause severe complications in newborns, and in rare cases can be fatal
  • toxoplasmosis, which can cause birth abnormalities and intellectual disabilities
  • Listeria, which can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth abnormalities
  • cytomegalovirus, which is often harmless but can also cause birth abnormalities
  • Zika, which is usually mild, can cause pregnancy loss or birth abnormalities in an infant

Zika infection, which is a disease carried by mosquitoes, may cause birth abnormalities and increase the risk for stillbirths and miscarriages in those who have the virus. However, it is unclear why some fetuses are affected, and others are not.

Preventing infections

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide some strategies to reduce the risk of developing an infection during pregnancy:

  • avoid travel to areas where Zika is rampant, and using bug spray to prevent mosquito bites
  • get a flu shot
  • use a condom and ask a partner to be tested for sexually transmitted infections(STIs)
  • wash hands diligently
  • testing for STDs and group B strep
  • avoid people who have contagious infections
  • avoid intake of unpasteurized foods
  • ask someone else to change the cat litter


Disclaimer: The content provided on is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical doctor or healthcare professional.


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