Infections during Pregnancy

During the nine months of pregnancy, it is almost inevitable to catch a cold or feel under the weather. While mild seasonal ailments might not be anything more than a nuisance, some infections are much more problematic for pregnant women.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the most common infections during pregnancy so that you can protect yourself and your baby from their potentially harmful effects.

Infections during Pregnancy

What Causes Infections during Pregnancy?

Generally, infections can be caused by four microorganisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. They can be transmitted through direct or indirect contact, such as:

  • Inhalation of airborne germs

  • Ingestion of contaminated food or water

  • Placental transmission

  • Illicit drug use

  • Unprotected sexual contact

During pregnancy, hormonal fluctuations and numerous physiological changes might affect how the immune system works, making women more susceptible to certain infections, such as vaginal yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis.

Risk Factors for Infections during Pregnancy

Several risk factors have also been associated with weakening women's immune system and making them more prone to contracting infections:

  • Medications, such as steroids

  • Maternal chronic conditions, such as HIV, AIDS, lupus, or cancers

  • Smoking or alcohol abuse

  • Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies

  • Insufficient vaccination

  • Prolonged stress

  • Depression

What Causes Infections during Pregnancy?

Common Infections during Pregnancy

While there are a number of infections that can complicate the progression of pregnancy, the most common ones include:

  • Urinary tract infection. It is caused by bacteria, such as E. coli, and it might affect the kidneys, ureters, urethra, and bladder.

  • Vaginal yeast infection. It is a common fungal infection that is caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy.

  • Influenza (flu). It is an infectious disease caused by a virus, which affects the respiratory tract.

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV). It is a viral infection that is spread through body fluids, like blood, saliva, or semen.

  • Listeriosis. It is a bacterial infection from eating contaminated food, such as uncooked meat or fish as well as raw vegetables and unpasteurized dairy.

  • Toxoplasmosis. It is a parasitic infection most commonly transmitted through cat's feces while changing litter.

  • Chickenpox and rubella. Both infections are caused by viruses. Most women are vaccinated against them in childhood, but those who have not been can transmit the virus to the fetus.

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Even though STDs can be easily managed before pregnancy, if they are contracted while you are pregnant, they can lead to serious complications.

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV). It arises from a disturbance in normal bacterial flora in the vagina. It can be exacerbated through sex.

  • Group B strep. It's a bacterial infection that can be passed on from the mother to the child during delivery.

Common Infections during Pregnancy

Signs and Symptoms of Infections during Pregnancy

Although various infections might manifest themselves in many ways depending on the causal organism, following are the general signs of infection:

  • Fever

  • Pain, muscle aches, and fatigue

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Coughing and chest tightness

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Heat at the site of infection

  • Redness, rash, swelling, or pus

  • Vision abnormalities

If you notice any of these signs and symptoms, seek immediate medical attention to get promptly diagnosed and treated.

Signs and Symptoms of Infections during Pregnancy

Tests for Infections during Pregnancy

The presence of contagious agents in the body can be detected with a wide range of diagnostic tests. Depending on the type of infection, they might include the following:

  • Labs: Blood test, urine test, culture swab, stool sample, or spinal tap

  • Imaging: X-ray, magnetic resonance, or CAT scan

  • Biopsy

It is worth mentioning that women are routinely screened for signs of infections and the presence of some of the most common pathogenic microorganisms throughout their pregnancy. This includes taking urine samples to detect UTIs or culture swabs to rule out group B strep, and more.

How Infections during Pregnancy Affect the Baby

Not all infections during pregnancy endanger the life of the baby. Yeast infections, for example, are very common and do not negatively affect your or your baby's health. Others, however, might lead to a wide range of serious complications, such as:

  • Miscarriage or stillbirth

  • Preterm birth

  • Low birth-weight

  • Birth defects leading to mental retardation and vision or hearing loss

  • Infections such a pneumonia or meningitis, sometimes leading to sepsis

It is important to keep in mind that certain medications used to treat infections during pregnancy might also have certain side effects that are harmful to the baby.

How Infections during Pregnancy Affect the Baby

Risk Reduction for Infections during Pregnancy

Preventing infections during pregnancy is the best way to avoid potentially life-threatening complications. Consider the following recommendations:

  • Wash your hands, especially after using the bathroom, handling raw meat, or playing with pets and before eating.

  • Do not eat uncooked meat or unpasteurized products.

  • Check if your vaccinations are up-to-date.

  • Do not clean the cat's litter box while you're pregnant.

  • Practice safe sex or abstain from it during pregnancy.

  • Don't share your personal items, such as toothbrushes or razors.

  • Be cautious traveling and avoid large crowds, especially during winter time.

Treatment and Management of Infections during Pregnancy

The choice of treatment during pregnancy depends on the type of infection you have. Most infections have to be treated with medications, but supporting your body with proper diet and natural remedies is equally important. Your treatment might, therefore, include the following:

Medications

Depending on the type of the organism causing an infection, you might be prescribed antibiotics or antiviral, anti-fungal, or anti-parasitic drugs. Your doctor will make sure that they can be safely taken during pregnancy.

Rest

Your body uses up all its immunological resources to fight an infection. So, it is crucial to get as much rest as you can while you are on a treatment regimen. Remember to get enough sleep and avoid strenuous physical activities.

Eat well and stay hydrated

Support your immune system in battling the infectious agents by consuming a nutrient-rich diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as well as healthy proteins and fats.

Natural remedies

Since the risk of serious complications from leaving your infection untreated during pregnancy is too high, natural remedies should not replace conventional treatment. They can, however, serve as supporting therapies. Consider the following:

  • Garlic, cinnamon, ginger, and honey have anti-microbial properties and can give your immune system a good boost. 
  • Probiotics in yogurt or sauerkraut can replenish the good bacteria in your guts, strengthening your immunity.
  • Echinacea is a known booster of your body's natural defense mechanism, helpful in alleviating a number of infections. 
  • Oregano has anti-fungal and antiviral abilities and can be used in an infusion or in an oil form.
Treatment of Infections during Pregnancy

Key Takeaways

Although the thought of having an infection during pregnancy might be terrifying to mothers-to-be, most common infectious diseases do not have an ability to harm the baby and can be effectively cured without causing complications. Implementing standard prevention methods along with a well-balanced diet and other healthy lifestyle practices can successfully shield you and your baby from problems during pregnancy and beyond.

Bibliography

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