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.
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
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.
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
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.
Although various infections might manifest themselves in many ways depending on the causal organism, following are the general signs of infection:
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
If you notice any of these signs and symptoms, seek immediate medical attention to get promptly diagnosed and treated.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
A better understanding of how your body works will help you cope with hormonal fluctuations.
Detecting symptoms of hormonal imbalance can prevent you from developing serious conditions.
Implement simple lifestyle changes and natural approaches to prevent, manage, and relieve symptoms.