One of the primary concerns of midwives, obstetricians, general practitioners and other professionals caring for pregnant women is the possible transmission of a virus or other infection from the mother to the fetus. This transmission of infection is referred to as “vertical transmission”, whether it occurs while the fetus is developing in the uterus, during the delivery or after the delivery (usually through breastfeeding).
During your pregnancy, your health care practitioner should suggest that you be screened for a variety of common viruses and bacterial infections that might affect the health and development of your baby.
Different infections can be transmitted in different ways and therefore the testing and treatment for different diseases may be offered at different stages during your pregnancy.
Congenital infections cross from the mother to the fetus through the placenta. The fetal development and miscarriage or stillbirth. Common congenital infections include toxoplasmosis (generally contracted through contact with cat feces), syphilis, Hepatitis B, chicken pox and Rubella.
Your health care practitioner will try to ensure that you have immunity to these viruses prior to pregnancy. If that is not possible, they may suggest that you avoid certain activities to minimize your chance of infection during pregnancy.
Perinatal infections are those that are transmitted to the fetus from the mother during the delivery. Common viruses and bacterial infections causing perinatal infection include sexually transmitted diseases such as Group B Streptococcus, Herpes Simplex Virus, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea.
Your health care practitioner will ensure that you are screened for these diseases at least once during your pregnancy. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear up any bacterial infections prior to your delivery. In the case of Herpes Simplex Virus, you may be prescribed an antiviral medication to minimize the chance of infecting your baby during the delivery. In some cases, delivery by cesarean section may be recommended.
Postnatal infections are spread to the baby after the delivery, generally through breastfeeding. A common example of a postnatal infection is HIV. Through careful management with antiviral medication, HIV positive women can generally give birth to healthy babies. However, there is approximately a 15% chance of transmitting HIV to your baby by breastfeeding.
The most important steps that health care practitioners can take to prevent the transmission of disease from mother to fetus are screening and education. Feel free to ask your doctor or midwife about the risks associated with any disease to which you think you may be exposed and preventing exposure to your fetus or newborn.