HPV and Pregnancy: Will It Affect Your Baby?

Medically reviewed by Michael Weber, MD on June 9, 2016Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN on June 9, 2016

Intro

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts and cervical cancers. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, but it doesn’t always cause symptoms. For this reason, the infection is easy to transmit from one person to another. Unfortunately, unlike many sexually transmitted infections, wearing condoms during sex may not protect against passing along HPV.

Many sexually transmitted infections affect your ability to get pregnant or your pregnancy, so it’s important to understand how HPV might impact you and your baby-to-be.

How does HPV affect me during pregnancy?

Doctors don’t associate HPV with increased difficulty getting pregnant. But you should discuss the risks of passing HPV to your partner, especially if you have active genital warts.

If you have HPV, rising estrogen levels during pregnancy could cause existing genital warts to get larger, multiply, or even bleed. There are risks for infection and bleeding, so doctors don’t usually recommend removing the warts while you’re pregnant.

If you have HPV without symptoms, the condition shouldn’t affect you during your pregnancy. If you have others concerns about your HPV and pregnancy, talk to your doctor.

How could HPV affect my baby during delivery?

For the most part, HPV shouldn’t affect your delivery or be passed along to your baby. One exception could be when you have active genital warts due to HPV. Some mothers with active genital warts have passed HPV to their babies. Doing this can cause laryngeal papillomas, which are warts on the throat. This can affect your baby’s breathing, so it could be dangerous.

It’s also possible that genital warts from HPV could be so large that they block the birth canal.

If you do have active genital warts, your doctor may recommend a cesarean delivery to protect your baby’s health. You can discuss these risks with your obstetrician to determine the best course of action during your delivery. There isn’t a treatment to make the warts go away prior to delivery, so watching and monitoring the outbreak is usually the only course of action.

You won’t likely pass along HPV to your baby during delivery, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pass on other sexually transmitted infections. You can also get a sexually transmitted infection if you have unprotected sex with an infected partner while pregnant.

What are the symptoms of HPV?

Many women and men have HPV without ever having any symptoms. But genital warts are usually the most common symptom. They don’t always cause pain, but are often itchy. These warts may appear as the following:

  • flat lesions
  • small bumps that have an irregular appearance
  • small, fingerlike projections

The warts can appear on different areas of the skin, including:

  • cervix
  • near the anus
  • vagina
  • vulva

In men, warts from HPV can appear on the penis, scrotum, or around the anus.

How do doctors diagnose HPV?

There are more than 100 known types of HPV. Usually about 40 are sexually transmitted and affect the genital area. Some HPV types are considered low-risk, meaning they usually don’t cause symptoms, or at least aren’t known for contributing to cancers. Others are high-risk, meaning they are associated with causing some cervical cancers.

HPV doesn’t always cause symptoms, so doctors will typically screen for cervical cancer at your annual checkup. This screening is known as a Pap test, or Pap smear. This test involves using a special brush that looks like a long Q-tip to collect cells from your cervix. After collecting the sample, your doctor will send it off to a laboratory to test the cells for any signs of cancer.

If your test comes back abnormal, your doctor may perform a repeat test that involves taking more cell samples from your cervix. This test specifically looks for DNA of the HPV virus to determine if HPV could be contributing to cancerous cells.

Treatment for HPV

The screening test for HPV is recommended only in women ages 30 or older, or in younger women who have abnormal Pap results. There isn’t a current screening test for men to determine if they have HPV.

In some instances, a person’s body will eliminate the virus on its own. This isn’t the case for all HPV forms, but it does happen. Otherwise, if your doctor does diagnose you with HPV, it’s possible to physically remove the warts.

Examples of removal methods include:

  • freezing
  • burning
  • lasering
  • surgical removal

Your doctor may also recommend topical medication or antiviral medication to treat or regress the warts.

Outlook for HPV and pregnancy

Nearly half of all sexually active people will have some form of HPV in their lifetime. But this common sexually transmitted infection shouldn’t affect your ability to get pregnant or have a successful delivery. There are always exceptions, so talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.

Engaging in regular prenatal care throughout your delivery can ensure that your doctor is aware of any active warts you may have. Your doctor can discuss any possible risks when you deliver.

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