If you contract herpes before you become pregnant, this is typically considered fairly low-risk to both you and the baby. (Learn More) If you contract herpes late in your pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, the risk that the virus may be passed on to the baby can be elevated.
Herpes is an extremely common infection that is typically mild in adults. Though it is not curable, it is usually easily managed.
There are two forms of the herpes simplex virus: HSV-1, which usually comes with cold sores near the mouth, and HSV-2, which can cause genital sores. Herpes is transmitted through physical contact. Genital herpes impacts as many as one out of every six American adults.
Neonatal herpes, which is when the virus is transmitted to a newborn during birth, is very rare, but it can be extremely hazardous to the baby. (Learn More)
There are several steps you and your doctor can take both during pregnancy and delivery to ensure that your baby is protected. Good communication between you and your health care providers is key. (Learn More)
If you suffer an outbreak of herpes during your pregnancy, it can be safely managed with medications. Special steps can be taken during birth to prevent transmission to your baby. (Learn More)
Talk to your doctor about how herpes and pregnancy interact. You can work together to manage the infection and protect yourself and your baby.
Pregnancy and Herpes
Herpes is typically considered a relatively manageable and mild infection.
If you have herpes already and you get pregnant, the odds are that your baby will not be impacted at all since your body will have already built up antibodies to the virus.
If you contract herpes in the third trimester of your pregnancy, there can be some complications to the baby, including the risk for neonatal herpes. If HSV is present in the birth canal during birth, herpes can spread to the baby. Otherwise, herpes does not typically affect the unborn baby during pregnancy.
Impact on the Baby
If the baby comes in contact with herpes in the birth canal during birth, the infant can suffer from neonatal herpes. This infection in a newborn can be extremely serious and lead to significant nervous system damage, cognitive deficits, or even fatality.
Neonatal herpes only impacts a very small percentage of babies, however. Less than 0.1 percent of American babies are born with it, while between a quarter and a third of all pregnant women have genital herpes. This means that the vast majority of babies born to women with genital herpes have no related complications.
Generally, the herpes virus leads to discomfort, but it is not usually a serious illness and will not cause harm to the baby most of the time. The only cause for concern is an active outbreak and contact between the baby and the sores during birth or beyond.
During pregnancy, the mother’s antibodies will usually protect the baby.
Treating Herpes During Pregnancy
If you have a history of herpes, the risk to the unborn baby is likely low. If you contract herpes during pregnancy, there is more risk for transmitting it to the baby during birth.
If you get herpes during pregnancy or have an active infection at the time of birth, a cesarean section (C-section) is often recommended. This will prevent transmission to the baby from skin-to-skin contact with potentially open genital sores.
There are several steps you can take to prevent transmission of herpes to your baby.
- Have a conversation with your doctor about your medical history, including any history of herpes.
- Check for an active infection when you go into labor. Signs include open sores, tenderness, itching, or tingling in the genital area.
- Ask that forceps, vacuum suction, or scalp electrodes not be used during birth to prevent breaks in the baby’s skin.
- Try to keep the baby’s bag of waters, or amniotic sac, intact during birth to further protect them from coming into contact with any potential sores.
Herpes can be managed safely with antiviral medications, which may help to prevent an outbreak during pregnancy and delivery. There are some risks to taking these medications during pregnancy, and your doctor can help you weigh these.
Talk to your doctors and labor and delivery team to determine the best methods for treating herpes while pregnant and keeping you and your baby safe.
Managing a Herpes Outbreak While Pregnant
The optimal method of protecting your baby from neonatal herpes is to avoid an active outbreak.
If you don’t have a history of herpes, avoid sexual intercourse or oral sex with a partner who may have herpes during the third trimester. If you already have herpes, talk to your doctor about medications that may be safe to use during pregnancy that can help to prevent an outbreak before delivery.
If you do experience a herpes outbreak near delivery, the safest thing to typically do is have a C-section instead of a vaginal birth to prevent the baby from contracting neonatal herpes.
You will need to watch the baby for a few weeks after birth to ensure that herpes symptoms do not crop up. These include lethargy, fever, lack of appetite, irritability, and skin rash.
If you notice any symptoms at all, seek medical attention immediately. The virus can be managed best if it is caught and treated as early as possible.
In additional to antiviral medications, there are some natural supplements and herbs that may be helpful to control, manage, and provide relief from herpes outbreaks.
- Wild oregano
- Licorice root
- Topical application of apple cider vinegar
- Hot and/or cool compresses
- Vitamin C
Be sure to discuss any medications or supplements with your doctor before taking them to ensure their safety during pregnancy and for you specifically.
Supplements and medications are not going to cure herpes, as there is no cure. They may help to keep an outbreak under control, and they may minimize or prevent one from occurring during pregnancy and birth.
The herpes virus can lie dormant for long periods of time. You may not experience symptoms for the duration of your pregnancy.
Managing Herpes During Pregnancy. (November 2018). What to Expect.
Reassurances About Genital Herpes During Pregnancy and Birth. (2014). The New Zealand Herpes Foundation.
Herpes & Pregnancy. (2019). American Sexual Health Association (ASHA).
Answering Questions About Herpes in Pregnancy. (Winter 2011). The Journal of Perinatal Education.
Genital Herpes– CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). (January 2017). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Try This: 37 Home Remedies for Herpes Simplex Virus-1 and -2. (September 2018). Healthline.