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HPV and pregnancy

Women who have HPV during pregnancy may worry that the HPV virus can harm their unborn child. However, in most cases, the human papillomavirus does not affect the developing baby. Nor does HPV infection usually change the way a woman is cared for during pregnancy. It is important, however, that the obstetrician and midwife know if a woman has HPV.

Here's what women need to know about HPV and pregnancy:

Trying to get pregnant, no history of HPV

Women trying to become pregnant often ask if they need a specific test for HPV, just to be sure they are not infected with the virus. They don't.

If a woman has been having regular smear tests, any abnormalities on those would have alerted her doctor to check further for HPV. If a woman has previously had an abnormal result from a cervical screening test, or if she is not up to date with her screening, she may need to be screened while pregnant. The GP or midwife would ask the woman to have a cervical screening test at her first antenatal appointment. This test would not interfere with her pregnancy. The test can, however, be harder to interpret during pregnancy and your doctor may suggest delaying it until 3 months after birth. You should discuss this with your doctor.

Trying to get pregnant, history of HPV

A woman with a history of HPV should be sure her doctor knows. She should tell her doctor whether she has a history of genital warts, tissue changes in the cervix (such as an abnormal smear test), or other problems. Her doctor will want to monitor her closely because more rapid cell changes can occur during pregnancy.

Pregnant, with HPV

No link has been found between HPV and miscarriage, premature delivery, or other pregnancy complications.

Also, the risk of transmitting the virus to the baby is considered very low.

If a pregnant woman tests positive for the high-risk types of HPV associated with cervical cancer, the doctor will monitor her during the pregnancy to watch for cervical tissue changes.

In some pregnant women with HPV, the tissue changes may increase during pregnancy. If possible, doctors postpone treatment because it may lead to premature labour.

If a pregnant woman has genital warts, the doctor will monitor to see if the warts get larger. Hormone changes during pregnancy can cause the warts to multiply or get larger. Sometimes the warts will bleed.

Depending on the extent of the warts, the doctor may postpone treatment until after childbirth. However, if the warts get so big that they might cause an obstruction in the vagina, they may need to be removed before childbirth.

Genital warts can be removed surgically, with chemical treatment, or with painless electric current.

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