Pregnant women are more susceptible to certain infections, such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. They don’t affect the baby except in some very rare cases.
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include pain, itching, or burning in the vulva or vagina, thin, grayish discharge, and a fishy smell that can become more pronounced after sex. If left untreated, BV could cause lower birth weight, preterm labor, or premature birth. However, it has no effect on conception.
A study published by the National Institutes of Health assessed whether the infection affected rates of miscarriage in the first trimester and conception rates. The study included 867 women currently undergoing in vitro fertilization, who were screened for BV with a Gram-stained smear. It emerged that just under a quarter of all the women were infected, but there was no difference in the conception rate between women with normal vaginal flora and women with BV.
Bacterial Vaginosis Increases Risk of Miscarriage
Interestingly, 31.6% of women with BV who got pregnant faced a higher risk of miscarriage in the first trimester of the pregnancy. For women with normal flora, this percentage was almost twice as low – 18.5%. The increased risk was still statistically significant after scientists adjusted for factors known to increase the probability of a miscarriage, such as smoking, increasing age of the mother, no previous live birth, history of three or more miscarriages, and polycystic ovaries.
Vaginal Yeast Infections
Yeast infections are also more common during pregnancy because the body is having a hard time “keeping up” with the vagina’s chemical changes. A yeast infection occurs when there’s an imbalance between the normal levels of yeast and acid in the vagina, resulting in too much yeast. Common symptoms include itchiness around the vulva or vagina, burning or pain in or around the vagina or during intercourse, and a thick, white vaginal discharge. A bready odor can be present as well. Yeast infections are generally treated using OTC medications, but not all of these can be taken while pregnant.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, causes of yeast infections include pregnancy-related hormonal changes, high blood sugar, douching, and sexual intercourse. If you’ve been diagnosed with one, make sure you always wear loose cotton underwear and use unscented or hypoallergenic soap. After going to the toilet, wipe from front to back. If you go swimming, always shower right after and change out of your swimsuit as soon as possible. Don’t use feminine hygiene sprays, take bubble baths, or use heavily scented toilet paper. Try to limit your sugar intake because sugar increases yeast growth.
Are Yeast Infection Drugs Safe for the Baby?
Data of the Official Publication of the College of Family Physicians of Canada indicate a lack of connection between exposure to topical antiseptics, oral and topical antifungals, or corticosteroids and increased risk of major malformations during pregnancy. Doctors recommend topical azole antifungals during pregnancy for at least a week due to increased efficacy. For symptomatic relief, you can use topical corticosteroids.
Uterine infections are more dangerous than the previous two kinds. They can harm the baby, affect the placenta, or cause birth abnormalities or premature labor. They can complicate birth as well.
Untreated vaginal infections can cause uterine ones when bacteria migrate from the vagina to the uterus. During labor, women with uterine infections might have a fever, in which case the fetus will be monitored. Cesarean delivery is recommended if severe symptoms present.
These infections can trigger a miscarriage or suppress a woman’s immune system, requiring the use of medication that could harm the fetus or render her body less capable of nurturing it.
While mostly harmless, yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to viruses. These, in turn, lead to other bacterial infections. Data published by the National Institutes of Health indicates that the flu can be more severe during pregnancy. As pregnancy increases demands on the heart and lungs and blood circulation, you might have more difficulty breathing if you develop pneumonia or bronchitis from the flu.
Contagious diseases such as herpes, hepatitis B, chlamydia, and gonorrhea affect the fetus and complicate birth. Gonorrhea causes premature birth, contaminates the amniotic fluid, and leads to eye infections. Fifth disease can cause fetal anemia or trigger a miscarriage. Other harmful infections include hepatitis E, measles, group B streptococcus, listeria, toxoplasmosis, and cytomegalovirus.
The Zika virus, which is carried by mosquitoes, may increase the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth or cause birth abnormalities. During pregnancy, hormone-related skin changes can cause conditions such as extremely dry skin or eczema. Cellulitis is a serious skin infection (not to be confused with cellulite) that can develop if cracks in the skin start to bleed. Cases of Sweet’s syndrome, which is a rare skin disorder, are also more frequent during pregnancy.
The increased risk of all of the above infections may be caused by hormonal changes altering the number of blood cells in the body. For example, T-cells decrease late in pregnancy. These cells are important allies against infections.
Most infections are sexually transmitted, so it’s crucial to use a condom if you’re pregnant and sexually active. Of course, you should avoid traveling to areas where Zika or other viruses are prevalent. If you must travel, take precautionary measures. Use spray to prevent mosquito bites.
Get checked for sexually transmitted infections regularly and ask your partner to get tested as well. Avoid close contact with people who have the flu or another known infection and wash your hands carefully and often. Getting a flu shot is recommended, although you should talk to your doctor to find out if it’s safe for your unborn child. Avoid unpasteurized foods.
Most women who have an infection during pregnancy do not suffer from any complications and their babies are born healthy. In every event, timely treatment increases the probability of a healthy birth. You should report any untypical symptoms during your pregnancy to a medical professional. Prenatal checkups can help detect certain infections before symptoms manifest.