Herpes and Pregnancy

Some pregnant women may encounter herpes and pregnancy at the same time, which can be troublesome. Genital herpes is brought about by the herpes simplex virus, and this is a sexually transmitted infection. The infection affects the genitals, thighs and bottom. Genital herpes can be very painful, as it develops painful sores which erupt on the skin.

There are two herpes simplex viruses and these are type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). Herpes can stay in the body for life and only breaks out as sores every now and then. It is therefore very important to inform your doctor if you or your partner has the infection because it can be harmful to your baby.

What Are the Symptoms of Herpes During Pregnancy?

Although herpes and pregnancy may sound more horrible, symptoms of herpes during pregnancy can be similar to normal symptoms of herpes. Some people may not even experience the signs when they become infected for the first time. Most patients are unaware that they have herpes and while the virus may be in your body, it may take months or years to see the signs. If you have a herpes attack upon infection, this is referred to as a primary infection and this tends to be one of the most severe attacks as it could last for up to three weeks. Some of the signs include:

  • Painful urination
  • Blisters that develop into sores within the genitals, thighs and bottoms, which are normally painful
  • Flu symptoms such as muscle aches, headache and fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention. You can also take a salt bath and some pain killing medication to soothe the discomfort. Sometimes, the patient may simply experience some tingling or mild irritation which will end in seven to 10 days. This is an indication of the body producing antibodies to deal with the primary infection.

Does Herpes During Pregnancy Harm Your Baby?

The chances of genital herpes harming your baby are slim. When coping with herpes and pregnancy together, the major risk factor for you would be when you get infected with the virus during the last trimester as there is a small risk of the baby getting infected too. When the baby becomes infected, it is referred to as neonatal herpes and it is a serious condition which could jeopardize the baby’s life. This is why it is always important to inform your doctor when you and your partner have the infection. Even if you suspect that you have the symptoms, it’s still important to seek medical attention as this will lead to early detection and treatment.

Do You Need a C Section with Herpes During Pregnancy?

The decision on whether or not to undergo a caesarean will depend on whether or not this is your first infection. Your doctor will first give you a daily acyclovir dose for a month. You should be able to undergo normal child birth and the risk of infecting your baby is quite low even if the attack is present when in labor. Your doctor will still have to closely monitor the symptoms. If you have an attack with active sores when your waters break, the doctor may choose to speed up labor to reduce the chance of infecting the baby.

If however you have your very first herpes attack during pregnancy, your doctor may recommend a c-section. It’s always important to inform your doctor of any herpes attack that occurs in the final trimester since as we mentioned above this could lead to neonatal herpes. Samples from your blood and sores will be tested to identify if this is your first attack because it is possible to have a herpes attack and not be aware of it. If it’s certain that this is the first attack, you will go through a caesarean to keep your baby safe. A caesarean is also the safer option for the baby when the mother goes into premature labor.

If you insist on vaginal birth your doctor will:

  • Try not to interfere with your labor by breaking the waters
  • Avoid using invasive baby monitoring techniques such as taking the baby’s blood samples or attaching electrodes on the head.
  • Administer acyclovir through a drip during labor and while giving birth to reduce the risk of infecting the baby.
  • The baby also may be given acyclovir.

How to Prevent Your Baby From Catching Herpes After Delivery?

It is possible and about five percent of all newborn herpes infections are contracted after birth. This is however preventable if you take precautions.

  • Ensure that those visiting your baby wash their hands before they touch the baby and do not let people with cold sores to hold or kiss your baby. Any type of herpes can be dangerous.
  • If you have a herpes outbreak, cover it up to prevent contact with the young one. Also ensure that you clean the area and your hands frequently because herpes can easily spread from the hands to the mouth.
  • Though rare, people with herpetic whitlow which affects the finger should not touch the baby.

What Should You Do If Your Baby Gets Herpes?

1. If It Only Affects Skin, Mouth and Eyes

In a third of cases, newborn herpes affect the baby’s eyes, mouth and skin are most affected and not other organs. In such cases, the baby may develop sores on delivery or up to four weeks later. That said, these sores normally increase between the first and second weeks after birth. The lesions will normally look like blisters and they normally appear in areas of the body where there has been some trauma. This would be in areas where doctors place wristbands or electrodes to monitor the heart rate during labor. They could also appear on other parts of the body.

Treatments: If the baby’s herpes only affected the eyes, mouth and skin, prompt treatment using intravenous acyclovir will help. In fact one study found that about 90 percent of babies who have this type of herpes will develop normally although they may have recurrent outbreaks and long term problems. If not treated on time, the herpes may develop into a more serious form.

2. More Serious Infections 

The following two forms of herpes are quite serious and they may cause death even with immediate medical attention being provided. Most survivors end up having multiple developmental problems and long term health complications.

  • Affects central nervous system. One third of newborns with herpes end up having an affected central nervous system. This mostly appears in the 2nd and 3rd weeks with symptoms such as seizures, fever, lethargy, irritability and poor feeding.
  • Affects multiple organs. The final group develops disseminated herpes which affects multiple organs including the liver and lungs. This infection will normally appear in the first week and it may not necessarily come with skin lesions. In some cases, diagnosing the infection as the cause of the illnesses becomes quite difficult.

3. When to Call a Doctor

Call your baby's healthcare provider immediately if your baby has a fever; seems unusually irritable or lethargic; is feeding poorly; has blisters, sores, or red or infected eyes. Again, be sure to tell the doctor if you or your partner has herpes.

Can I Breastfeed If I Have a Herpes Outbreak?

Yes, you can breastfeed as long as your breasts have no lesions. Be careful, wash your hands and cover all lesions. If the lesions are on one breast, the baby can be nursed using the other breast. However, clean the breast thoroughly and cover up the other lesion with dressing tape and a clean garment.

Watch a Video: Living With Herpes | Herpes and Pregnancy with Dr. Kelly