Sexually transmitted infections can happen without symptoms

April 15, 2021

Having a healthy baby starts before you get pregnant. Get a pre-pregnancy checkup to make sure that your body is healthy. During this visit, your health care provider can help you prevent and treat health conditions that may affect your pregnancy, including sexually transmitted infections (also called STIs or STDs).

What are sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

An STI is an infection you can get from having  sex or intimate physical contact with someone who is infected. You can get an STI mostly from having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. Some STIs can spread in ways other than sex. For example, a person can get human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), syphilis and herpes by having direct contact with body fluids from an infected person.

About 1 in every 5 people in the U.S. has a sexually transmitted infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most common STIs are human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes, trichomoniasis and chlamydia. STIs can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. Many STIs don’t have symptoms, so you can have one without knowing it.

Symptoms can include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, including feeling tired and having a headache
  • Discharge, burning, itching, redness or swelling in the genital area
  • Pain, itching or burning when you go to the bathroom
  • Pain, discharge or bleeding in the rectum
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Belly pain
  • Pain during sex or bleeding after sex or between periods
  • Eye infections
  • Sores on the mouth or the vaginal, genital or anal areas

Can I get an STI while pregnant?

Yes. Pregnant people can become infected with the same STIs as people women who aren’t pregnant.

  • You can get an STI  if you have sex or intimate relations with someone who has an STI.
  • Being pregnant does not protect you or your baby against STIs.
  • You can get pregnant while you have an STI.
  • You can pass some STIs to your baby during pregnancy, labor, birth and nursing

What problems can STIs cause during pregnancy?

If you are pregnant and have an STI, it’s important to get treatment. Having an STI during pregnancy can cause serious problems for you and your baby, including:

  • Preterm birth. This is birth that happens too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Low birthweight. This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Premature rupture of the membranes (also called PROM). This is when the sac around your baby breaks (your water breaks) before you go into labor.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease . This is an infection of certain reproductive organs, including the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries and cervix.
  • Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies during pregnancy before 20 weeks.
  • Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies during pregnancy after 20 weeks.

Having an STI can cause problems for your baby after birth, too, including problems with the eyes, lungs and liver. Some of these problems can affect your baby’s entire life, and some can even cause death.

It’s important to get tested and treated for STIs. If you have an infection, your provider may decide to do a cesarean delivery (also called a C-section) to protect your baby.

How can I get tested for an STI?

Early testing and treatment can help protect your baby from infection. Your provider will test you for some STIs during your pre-pregnancy checkup. Be sure to let your provider know if you have any symptoms. Ask your partner to get tested and treated, too. Even if you get treated for an STI, you can get the infection again if your partner is infected.

You can get a pre-pregnancy checkup any time—even during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s important not to delay getting a checkup. And, get one even if you’ve already had a baby, since your health may have changed since you were last pregnant.

If you are pregnant now, ask your provider about getting tested for STIs. Find out which tests you get and when you get them.

Tell your provider if you think you may have an STI. Many infections are easily treated and cured.