Genital Herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease and an estimated 45 million Americans have it, so obviously herpes during pregnancy is a very common occurrence.
Very often a woman may have herpes and not even know it since the symptoms could be absent of quite mild.
While some experts think that testing for herpes should be done as a matter of routine for pregnant women, a majority think this is not necessary.
The main concerns about herpes during pregnancy
It is important to tell one’s doctor if one has had herpes before pregnancy if the first outbreak is experienced during pregnancy so that appropriate antiviral medication can be administered to control the virus.
A new born getting infected with Herpes is very a serious matter and the concern that pregnant women usually have is whether they can pass the herpes infection on to their baby.
Usually this is not a grave concern – if a woman is infected before pregnancy she already has antibodies against the infection which are passed on to the unborn baby.
However if a woman gets herpes after she gets pregnant, this could be dangerous. Contracting herpes during the first trimester and transmitting it to the baby for instance, can cause serious birth defects.
The main concern usually about the condition is that the herpes infection will pass to the baby during the time of a vaginal birth when the baby passes through the birth canal. According to estimates even this risk is small (just about 1%) and the infection will pass if the woman is in the contagious or shedding stage.
Many doctors will however not take the risk of delivering a baby vaginally if the mother has genital herpes and will usually advise a C section. The C section will be performed on an emergency basis if there is an outbreak of the virus when the woman goes into labor.
It is recommended that antiviral medication for herpes during a pregnancy be taken from 36 weeks pregnant until delivery, if she desires to increase her chances of delivering vaginally.
Precautions to be taken after the arrival of the baby
It isn’t just herpes during pregnancy that causes concern, there are concerns that if either parent or a caregiver is infected with any kind of herpes (including cold sores) this could pass on to the new born baby either through handling or breast feeding and so on.
The infection of Herpes, whether genital or cold sores, passes through contact. So any sores or lesions on the body should be covered well so that the baby doesn’t come into contact with them. Hands should be washed religiously before touching the baby.
There should be no nuzzling or kissing of the baby if there are cold sores on the face until the sores have dried and crusted.
Another concern, once herpes during pregnancy is safely navigated, is whether a new mother can breast feed her baby if she has herpes. So long as there are no lesions in the breast area and the baby cannot come into physical contact with any lesions, it is safe to breast feed.