Sexually transmitted diseases

A sexually transmitted disease (also called STD) is an infection that you can get from having sex with someone who is infected. You can get an STD from vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Many people with STDs don’t know they’re infected because some STDs have no symptoms. About 19 million people get an STD each year in the United States.

STDs can be harmful to pregnant women and their babies.

What problems can STDs cause during pregnancy?

STDs may cause these problems during pregnancy:

  • Premature birth. This is birth that happens too early, before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.
  • Premature rupture of the membranes (PROM). This is when the amniotic sac breaks early. The amniotic sac is the sac or bag inside the uterus that holds a growing baby. It is filled with amniotic fluid.
  • Ectopic pregnancy. This is a pregnancy that cannot result in the birth of a baby because the embryo (fertilized egg) grows outside of the womb, usually in a fallopian tube. The fallopian tubes are the tubes between your ovaries and your uterus. In a normal pregnancy, when your ovary releases an egg, it travels down these tubes to your uterus.
  • Birth defects. These are health conditions that are present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works.
  • Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. 
  • Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Can you pass STDs to your baby?

Yes. Most babies get infected with STDs while passing through the birth canal during labor and birth. But some STDs can cross the placenta and infect your baby in the womb. The placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies your baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.

How do you know if you have a STD?

If you’re pregnant, it’s important to find out if you have an STD. At your prenatal care visits, your health care provider tests you for some STDs, including:

How can you protect yourself from STDs?

Here’s how to protect yourself from STDs:

  • Get tested and treated for STDs. If you find out you have an STD, get treatment right away. This can help protect your health and fertility (the ability to get pregnant). It also can help protect your baby from problems that STDs can cause during pregnancy and birth. Talk to your provider about testing and treatment.
  • Don’t have sex. This is the best way to prevent yourself from getting an STD.
  • If you have sex, have sex with only one person who doesn’t have other sex partners. Use a condom if you’re not sure if your partner has an STD. Ask your partner to get tested and treated for STDs.

Last reviewed May 2013


Most common questions

What is mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis (also called mono) is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It’s sometimes caused by another virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). EBV and CMV are part of the herpes virus family. Mono is most common in teenagers and young adults, but anyone can get it. Mono is called the “kissing disease” because it’s usually passed from one person to another through saliva. In addition to kissing, it can also be passed through sneezing, coughing or sharing pillows, drinks, straws, and toothbrushes.

You can have mono without having any symptoms. But even if you don’t get sick, you can still pass it to others. Symptoms can include:

  • Achy muscles
  • Belly pain
  • Fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in your neck

If your symptoms don’t go away or get worse, tell your health care provider. He’ll most likely do a physical exam and test your blood to find out for sure if you have mono.

There’s no vaccine to prevent mono. There’s also no specific treatment. The best care is to take it easy and get as much rest as you can. It may take a few weeks before you fully recover.

Can Rh factor affect my baby?

The Rh factor may be a problem if mom is Rh-negative but dad is Rh-positive. If dad is Rh-negative, there is no risk.

If your baby gets her Rh-positive factor from dad, your body may believe that your baby's red blood cells are foreign elements attacking you. Your body may make antibodies to fight them. This is called sensitization.

If you're Rh-negative, you can get shots of Rh immune globulin (RhIg) to stop your body from attacking your baby. It's best to get these shots at 28 weeks of pregnancy and again within 72 hours of giving birth if a blood test shows that your baby is Rh-positive. You won't need anymore shots after giving birth if your baby is Rh-negative. You should also get a shot after certain pregnancy exams like an amniocentesis, a chorionic villus sampling or an external cephalic version (when your provider tries to turn a breech-position baby head down before labor). You'll also want to get the shot if you have a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy or suffer abdominal trauma.

I had a miscarriage. How long should I wait to try again?

Before getting pregnant again, it's important that you are ready both physically and emotionally. If you don't need tests or treatments to discover the cause of the miscarriage, it's usually OK for you to become pregnant after one normal menstrual cycle. However, it may take longer for you to feel emotionally ready to be pregnant again. Everyone responds differently to a miscarriage. Only you will know when you are ready to try to get pregnant again.

Are gallstones common during pregnancy?

Not common, but they do happen. Elevated hormones during pregnancy can cause the gallbladder to function more slowly, less efficiently. The gallbladder stores and releases bile, a substance produced in the liver. Bile helps digest fat. When bile sits in the gallbladder for too long, hard, solid nuggets called gallstones can form. The stones can block the flow of bile, causing indigestion and sometimes serious pain. Staying at a healthy weight during pregnancy can help lower your risk of gallstones. Exercise and eating foods that are low in fat and high in fiber, like veggies, fruits and whole grains, can help, too. Symptoms of gallstones include nausea, vomiting and intense, continuous abdominal pain. Treatment during pregnancy may include surgery to remove the gallbladder. Gallstones in the third trimester can be managed with a strict meal plan and pain medication, followed by surgery several weeks after delivery.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).