According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20% of adults in the United States have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) on any given day of the year.

It’s probably not a surprise that some of those people with an STI are also pregnant. If you are one of these people, you may wonder what this means for your pregnancy and baby.

If you believe you may have an STI, talk with a healthcare professional and seek testing. Here’s some information that may help you feel better prepared to have that talk.

STIs are infections transmitted through sexual activity. STIs can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact.

Some examples of common STIs include:

Yes, you can get STIs if you are pregnant.

Being pregnant does not offer any additional layers of protection against STIs.

In fact, if you stop using a barrier method of birth control, like condoms, during sex because you’re already pregnant, you may increase your risk of getting an STI.

A doctor or other healthcare professional will likely perform a full STI panel at the beginning of your pregnancy whether you have symptoms or not.

The CDC recommends STI screening early in pregnancy and that healthcare professionals repeat STI testing closer to delivery if needed.

If you have symptoms of an STI or are concerned you may have potentially contracted an STI during your pregnancy, you can also be tested again at that point. You can be tested for an STI at any point during your pregnancy.

Symptoms of an STI can include:

  • pain or burning when urinating
  • changes in urination (color, frequency, etc.)
  • vaginal itching
  • rashes
  • unusual discharge
  • pain during sexual intercourse

Many of these symptoms may be associated with pregnancy in general, so it can be hard to tell what is causing what.

Additionally, many STIs are “silent.” This means you may not be able to tell that you have an STI based on symptoms alone.

For these reasons, it’s important to screen for STIs if it’s possible you have one and are pregnant.

Treatment depends on what’s causing the STI: bacteria or a virus.

Antibiotics can treat bacterial STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics that are safe to take during pregnancy.

STIs like genital herpes, hepatitis B, or HIV are caused by viruses. While viral STIs have no cure, antiviral medications can manage symptoms and reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to your baby.

You may need to alter your birthing plan or method of delivery to help prevent STI transmission to your baby.

If you receive an STI diagnosis during pregnancy:

If you have an STI during pregnancy, potential risks to the baby include:

One of the more serious risks is that some STIs can be transmitted to the baby during pregnancy and the birthing process. For example, people with active genital herpes can potentially transmit the infection to their baby as they travel through the birth canal.

To reduce the risk of STIs during pregnancy, you can:

  • wait to have sex with potential partners until they can show a negative STI test
  • use a condom or other barrier method every time you are sexually active
  • get regular STI screenings
  • properly clean and store sex toys

Early detection and treatment of STIs during pregnancy are essential.

Left untreated, some STIs can be life threatening to you or your baby. Treatment is also key to reducing the likelihood of transmitting an STI to your baby during pregnancy or birth.

Many bacterial STIs can be treated with medications that are safe to take during pregnancy. In other cases, the use of antiviral medications may help reduce the risk of transmission to your baby.

Can I breastfeed my baby if I have an STI?

Maybe. It will depend on the STI you have and any medications you are taking to treat it.

It’s not generally recommended to breastfeed if you have HIV or sores on your breasts from syphilis or herpes.

If you have an STI, discuss nursing your baby with your doctor before delivery.

Can I give birth vaginally if I have genital herpes?

Maybe. People with an active herpes outbreak are typically encouraged to have a cesarean delivery to prevent the baby from coming in contact with the virus in the birth canal.

If you are not having an active outbreak, the risk of transmission is very low, and you can generally give birth vaginally unless there are other complications.

If I have HIV, will I transmit it to my baby?

Antiviral medications can lower the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby to less than 1%. If your HIV viral load is high, your doctor may suggest having a cesarean delivery to reduce the risk of HIV transmission during delivery.

In areas with clean water, using formula instead of breastfeeding is encouraged to reduce the risk of HIV transmission to the baby as well.

Many STIs can be treated or managed during pregnancy, but some can have serious effects for you and your baby. For this reason, it’s a good idea to use barrier methods each time you have sex, even if you’re pregnant.

Your doctor may request an STI panel at the beginning of your pregnancy because some STIs do not have visible symptoms.

It’s important to tell your doctor any time you believe there’s a chance you have contracted an STI during pregnancy.