Herpes During and After Pregnancy

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is caused by a virus and can be very serious during pregnancy. The greatest concern is passing the virus to the fetus and newborn. The virus is more likely to be passed to the newborn during delivery if the mother becomes infected for the first time late in her pregnancy (primary infection). It is less common for the virus to pass to the newborn if the mother had herpes before becoming pregnant. This is because antibodies against the virus develop over a period of time. These antibodies help protect the baby. Lastly, the infection can pass to the fetus through the placenta. This can happen if the mother gets herpes for the first time in the first 3 months of her pregnancy (first trimester). This can possibly cause a miscarriage or birth defects in the baby.

TREATMENT DURING PREGNANCY

Medicines may be prescribed that are safe for the mother and the fetus. The medicine can lessen symptoms or prevent a recurrence of the infection. If the infection happened before becoming pregnant, medicine may be prescribed in the last 4 weeks of the pregnancy. This can prevent a recurrent infection at the time of delivery.

RECOMMENDED DELIVERY METHOD

If an active, recurrent infection is present at the time delivery, the baby should be delivered by cesarean delivery. This is because the virus can pass to the baby through an infected birth canal. This can cause severe problems for the baby. If the infection happens for the first time late in the pregnancy, the caregiver may also recommend a cesarean delivery. With a new infection, the body has not had the time to build up enough antibodies against the virus to protect the baby from getting the infection.

Even if the birth canal does not have visible sores (lesions) from the herpes virus, there is still that chance that the virus can spread to the baby. A cesarean delivery should be done if there is any signs or feeling of an infection being present in the genital area.

Cesarean delivery is not recommended for women with a history of herpes infection but no evidence of active genital lesions at the time of delivery. Lesions that have crusted fully are considered healed and not active.

BREASTFEEDING

Women infected with genital herpes can breastfeed their baby. The virus will not be present in the breast milk. If lesions are present on the breast, the baby should not breastfeed from the affected breast(s).

HOW TO PREVENT PASSING HERPES TO YOUR BABY AFTER DELIVERY

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often and before touching your baby.

  • If you have an outbreak, keep the area clean and covered.

  • Try to avoid physical and stressful situations that may bring on an outbreak.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have an outbreak during pregnancy and cannot urinate.

  • You have an outbreak anytime during your pregnancy and especially in the last 3 months of the pregnancy.

  • You think you are having an allergic reaction or side effects from the medicine you are taking.