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 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