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Genital herpes and pregnancy

Pregnant women with genital herpes should be careful about passing the virus on to the baby, but not overly worried about it.

A mother can infect her baby during delivery. But if a woman had genital herpes before getting pregnant, or if she is first infected early in pregnancy, the chance that her baby will be infected is very low - less than 1%. 

Women with genital herpes are examined carefully for any signs before giving birth. If there are signs of a recurrence of genital herpes infection at the time of delivery, or if a woman develops genital herpes for the first time late in pregnancy (within 6 weeks of giving birth) when the risk of infecting the baby is high (around 40% risk) because the mother’s immune system will not have had time to develop antibodies against the virus, the baby may be delivered by caesarean section, also called a C-section.

Women with an older herpes infection have antibodies against the virus, which help protect the baby. If you are pregnant and you think you may have been infected recently, tell your doctor or midwife right away.

Ways to avoid risks of getting herpes while pregnant

Women who don't have genital herpes should be careful about sex during the third trimester. Unless you know for sure that your partner is herpes free, you should avoid sex altogether during the third trimester. If your partner gets cold sores (oral herpes), he or she should not perform oral sex on you during this time.

Some doctors think all women should be tested for herpes when they are pregnant, especially if their sex partners have herpes. Ask your doctor if you or your partner should be tested.

Genital herpes treatment during pregnancy

Women taking antiviral drugs for herpes -- either daily suppressive therapy or occasional therapy for outbreaks -- should consult their doctor about whether to take the drugs during pregnancy. The answer is not set in stone: You and your doctor have to discuss the risks and benefits to decide what's right for you.

Herpes infection in a newborn is also serious. Do not allow anyone with a cold sore on the mouth to kiss the baby. If you have a cold sore, don't kiss the baby, and wash your hands with soap and water before touching the baby.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 04, 2014

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