How Can Sexually Transmitted Infections Affect a Baby?

Health 3 December, 2020

Sexually transmitted infections range from embarrassing annoyances to life-threatening conditions. When it comes to pregnancy and the possibility of infecting a newborn, though, even mild conditions can be serious. Without proper precautions, some infected mothers can pass their infections to their babies, with potential consequences in some cases being as severe as death.

1. Bacterial Infections

Some of the primary bacterial infections that a newborn may be susceptible to are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Each of these conditions poses unique threats to your unborn baby.


Chlamydia is a relatively mild sexually transmitted infection, with many infected people not even realizing they have it because they don’t notice any symptoms. For those who do develop symptoms, the most common is pain while urinating and unusual discharge from the penis, vagina, or anus. Women may also experience stomach pain and bleeding after sex or between periods, while men may have pain and swelling of their testicles.

It is important to treat chlamydia early if you are infected because if left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body. This spread can result in long-term health problems such as pelvic inflammatory disease, inflamed testicles, and infertility.

In a pregnancy, chlamydia can lead to premature labor, premature rupture of the membranes, and low birth weight. Mothers can also pass the infection on to their babies during vaginal deliveries. Fortunately, as long as the infection gets diagnosed early, the mother can be treated with an antibiotic, and the child should be fine.


Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is often mild, and many don’t display symptoms. When symptoms are present, they are usually the same as those of chlamydia. Gonorrhea can also affect other areas of the body, including the anus, eyes, throat, and joints.

During pregnancy, a gonorrheal infection can have the same consequences as chlamydia. Fortunately, also like chlamydia, it can be easily treated with antibiotics, although, the advice is to always ask for a medical professional’s opinion.


Syphilis is a more serious sexually transmitted infection that can have dire consequences. Similar to the previously described infections, people don’t always display symptoms. However, when they do, these can include: small painless sores on or around the penis, vagina, anus, or mouth, a rash on the palms of hands or soles of feet, small skin growth on the vulva or around the anus, and white patches in the mouth. Some other symptoms are tiredness, headaches, fever, swollen glands in the neck, groin, or armpits, and joint pain.

When left untreated, syphilis can spread throughout the body, including to the brain, and cause serious health problems. During pregnancy, syphilis can have critical consequences, including premature birth, stillbirth, and death after birth. Antibiotics can take care of this infection. It is crucial to get treated as soon as possible to avoid problems for your baby.

2. Viral Infections

Some of the most common viral sexually transmitted infections that mothers may face are Hepatitis B & C and HIV.

Hepatitis B & C

Hepatitis B & C are infections of the liver. Both infections are often symptomless. Hepatitis B is far milder, and many people fight it off without ever realizing they were infected. Hepatitis C, however, will continue to progress and cause further damage to the liver. When present, common symptoms include; fever, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and jaundice.

If untreated, Hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. Hepatitis B will usually go away on its own. However, if you have chronic hepatitis B, it can lead to the same consequences as hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C has been shown to lead to premature birth and undersize and underweight newborns. Babies at risk for Hepatitis B can be vaccinated shortly after birth to prevent the consequences of the infection.


The human immunodeficiency virus is incredibly serious and causes damage to the cells of your immune system, limiting your ability to fight off infections and disease. HIV has no cure, but there are effective treatments that help infected people live long, healthy lives.

If HIV does progress, it has the potential to lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS describes a whole host of potentially life-threatening illnesses that overrun a deficient immune system. People with AIDS typically do not live long after diagnosis.

Symptoms of HIV are similar to the flu and last for a couple of weeks. Then symptoms often disappear for years while silently destroying your immune system. Because of this, many people don’t know they are infected. If you believe that you could have HIV, it’s important to get tested right away.

Pregnant women can pass HIV on to their babies during pregnancy, labor, vaginal delivery, or through breast-feeding. It’s vital to catch HIV early in pregnancy so that preventative measures can be taken, and a C-section will likely be performed to further reduce the risk of transmission.

3. Other Consequences

Babies can suffer many other consequences from STIs including:

● Eye infection

● Blood infection

● Pneumonia

● Chronic liver disease

● Blindness

● Deafness

● Brain damage


The best ways to avoid passing an STI on to your child are through testing during pregnancy and by avoiding sex with anyone who is potentially infected while pregnant. Your doctor should perform screenings for STIs at least once early in your pregnancy, and then again if you have any new sexual encounters during pregnancy with partners who could be infected.

If your doctor fails to run these tests and your child develops an STI or complications from one, you have the right to sue the doctor and possibly the hospital for medical malpractice. When birth injuries cause long-term limitations for the child, parents can file for a larger settlement.