Herpes and Pregnancy

Herpes Overview

Herpes or Genital Herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that manifests in a variety of mild to severe sores and blisters in what are called herpes "outbreaks." When the virus is active, one can spread the disease to others through person-to-person contact (especially contact with the infected area). While herpes cannot be cured, there are a variety of medications or natural remedies that can decrease the frequency and the severity of herpes outbreaks.

Herpes in Pregnant Women

Pregnant women who suffer from herpes must take great care not to pass this contagious virus to their babies. A mother who suffers from genital herpes can easily infect her baby during delivery. Babies born with herpes can suffer brain damage, rashes, or eye problems. They can also be born prematurely or may die. In addition, herpes infections in young infants are very serious. Anyone who is infected with herpes or has a cold sore should not be allowed to kiss a baby, and care should be taken to wash one's hands meticulously before touching a baby.

Transmitting Herpes During Pregnancy

If a woman has her first outbreak of herpes while she is early in her pregnancy, or if she contracted genital herpes before getting pregnant, there is a much lower chance that she will pass the virus on to her baby. Women with herpes should consult with their doctor, who can help them safely manage the disease during pregnancy. If a pregnant woman shows any signs of herpes symptoms before delivery, especially near the region of the birth canal, the doctor might perform a cesarean section to deliver the baby. In addition, a drug called acyclovir can help treat babies born with herpes if they are treated right away.

However, if a woman is infected with herpes late in her pregnancy, the risk of infecting the baby is much higher due to the fact that the mother's immune system has not developed protective antibodies against the virus. Many women who have had herpes for a while have received treatments for herpes, such as medications (intermittent treatment or suppressive treatment) that help build antibodies, which can then protect the baby.

Therefore doctors recommend that women who don't have herpes refrain from sex during their third trimester, especially if they don't know for sure if their partner is herpes free. Moreover, some doctors advocate that all women and their partners should be tested for herpes before or when they get pregnant.

Taking Herpes Medications While Pregnant

The jury is still out on whether or not it is safe to take herpes medications during pregnancy. You should definitely be in consultation with you doctor if you have genital herpes and are pregnant to discuss the risks and benefits for your individual situation. Some doctors recommend taking the drug acyclovir (through pill form or intravenously) during pregnancy.

Herpes and Breastfeeding

Herpes is spread by contact with infected areas (sores or blisters). If a woman has herpes and has sores on her nipple or the surrounding areola, she should not breastfeed. To be safe and not risk passing herpes to the baby, bottle feeding is recommended, although one can still use milk pumped from the breast. Great care must still be taken, however, for if parts of the breast pump touch a herpes sore while pumping, the milk should be thrown away.

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