Bacterial vaginosis and pregnancy

Bacterial vaginosis (also called BV or vaginitis) is an infection caused when there’s too much harmful bacteria in the vagina. 

BV is not a sexually transmitted disease (also called STD). This means you can get it without having sex. But having BV can increase your chances of getting an STD. 

An STD is a disease you can get from having sex with someone who has the disease. It’s important to have any infection treated during pregnancy so it doesn’t harm you or your baby.  

More than 1 million pregnant women in the United States get BV each year.

Can BV cause problems during pregnancy?

Having BV during pregnancy may increase your chances of having a premature birth. This is birth that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. It also may increase your chances of having a baby with low birthweight. This means your baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. Being born too early or too small can cause health problems for your baby.

What causes BV?

We don’t know for sure what causes BV. Any woman can get it. BV seems to be more common in women who: 

  • Have new sex partners
  • Have more than one sex partner
  • Douche (use water or other liquid to clean inside the vagina)

How do you know if you have BV?

Most women with BV have no signs or symptoms. But you may have:

  • Vaginal discharge that has an unpleasant, fishy odor
  • Burning feeling when you urinate
  • Genital itching

If you think you may have BV, tell your health care provider right away. Your provider can examine you and take a sample of vaginal fluid to look for bacteria associated with BV. The sample is sent to a lab for testing.

BV is treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are medicines that kill infections caused by bacteria. 

How can you protect yourself from BV?

Here are some things you can do to help protect yourself from BV:

  • Don’t have sex. This is the best way to prevent yourself from getting BV and as well as any STD.
  • If you have sex, have sex with only one person who doesn’t have other sex partners.
  • Don’t douche.

Last reviewed: August, 2014