February is Prenatal Infection Prevention Month | Pediatrics East
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February is Prenatal Infection Prevention Month

February is Prenatal Infection Prevention Month

We all want what’s best for our baby.  That’s why it’s important that we make every effort to keep them safe and healthy both before and after they’re born.  February denotes the start of Prenatal Infection Prevention Month, a time during which we help spread awareness about the dangers of prenatal infections, how to treat them, and how to prevent them.

What Is A Prenatal Infection?

If you’ve been considering having a baby, or are pregnant, you may know that what you do affects your baby.  Your diet, medication routine, and daily habits have a huge impact on how your baby develops.  However, some of the things you don’t do can affect an unborn baby just as much.

A prenatal infection is just that: An infection or disease that your baby can contract before they’re born.  A prenatal infection can range from something minor that may clear up on its own, or develop into a more serious issue that requires treatment.  Luckily, most prenatal infections can be prevented through planning, hygiene, and other easy-to-follow measures that will protect your little one all the way into your waiting arms.

pregnant belly with heart hands

How Do Prenatal Infections Spread?

If you’re wondering how prenatal infections spread, the answer is simple:  Through the mother.  Just as poor diet and lifestyle can have an effect on your baby, being sick or contracting an infection while you’re pregnant can impact their health even before they’re born.  We know that no one ever wants to be sick, especially while they’re pregnant, which is why pediatricians and OBGYNs take extra precautions and check in on their pregnant patients so frequently.

What Are Common Prenatal Infections?

There is quite a list of infections that can be transmitted from mother to child in utero, but we’re just going to focus on the common ones to watch for.  Of course, if you have questions, ask your doctor (typically your OBGYN) for more information on prenatal infections.

Bacterial Vaginosis

A woman’s vagina has a natural balance of normal bacteria.  Bacterial vaginosis (also called BV) is a condition that occurs when there is too much of a single bacteria present in the vagina.  BV is the most common vaginal bacterial infection for women ages 15-44.

It’s not actually clear how BV is spread, but we do know that it’s caused by an imbalance of good vs. harmful bacteria and occurs more frequently in sexually active women.  Symptoms can include itchiness, soreness, burning, odor, and discharge.

Bacterial vaginosis can cause premature birth or low birth weight if left untreated.  Luckily, treatment is safe and effective during pregnancy, and the risk to your baby (while still present) is minimal.

Group B Strep

It may sound unlikely that the streptococcus bacteria is something you could pass on to a baby in the womb.  However, group B strep is a bacteria usually found in the intestines and lower genital tract.  While usually harmless in most adults, babies can contract it from their mother before birth and can present with symptoms within the first 6 hours of life.

Group B strep can cause fever, lethargy, breathing difficulties, feeding problems, irritability, jaundice, or even pneumonia.  To treat group B strep, doctors usually administer an IV antibiotic when labor begins.

Hepatitis B

In essence, hepatitis B is a liver infection that can be caused by alcohol, toxins, or certain medical conditions.  However, most commonly, it’s caused by the hep B virus.  In most people, they show symptoms for only a few weeks, but for others, it can turn into a chronic battle.

If you’re pregnant, your doctor will likely scan for the presence of hepatitis B, and it’s important that you know of your status prior to giving birth.  If your child is born while you have hepatitis B, there is an over 90% chance that they will contract it as well.  Hepatitis B can cause a variety of issues for infants including loss of appetite, jaundice, vomiting, liver damage, and more.  If your doctor is aware of your hepatitis B diagnosis, they can quickly treat and prevent most severe symptoms after your baby is born.

Toxoplasmosis

gray tabby cat

More than 40 million people in the U.S. are already infected with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite.  It is most commonly contracted by consuming undercooked and contaminated meat or from exposure to feline feces.  In the majority of people, our immune systems are enough to keep us from developing an infection.  In fact, if a woman has already contracted the parasite before getting pregnant, her immune system will protect her fetus from it.

However, if she comes in contact with it during pregnancy the risk of infection is greatly determined by when she contracts it.  The greatest risk is posed during the third trimester.

While treatable, and usually harmless, there is a chance that a baby could develop symptoms later in life that may include blindness or mental disabilities.  The best way to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis while pregnant is to avoid undercooked meats.  If you have a cat, avoid handling its litter, make sure you keep it indoors and only feed it commercially canned foods.

Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common problem for most women and are especially common in pregnant women.  A UTI is an infection present within any part of the urinary system.  That includes the bladder and kidneys, ureters, and urethra.  When you’re pregnant, the uterus expands and contains more proteins, hormones, and sugars as your body changes to suit the pregnancy.  Unfortunately, a UTI is a common side effect of these changes.

While a UTI is usually easily treatable, it can cause more serious issues if ignored or overlooked.  In pregnant women, it can cause a kidney infection, premature birth, or even sepsis.  A UTI can also contribute to low birth weight once the baby is born, which can lead to further complications.

To keep UTIs at bay, stay well hydrated, be careful when washing around the genitals, and urinate before and after sex.

How Can I Prevent Prenatal Infection?

pregnant woman eating from a bowl

There’s no surefire way to completely prevent every prenatal infection.  However, there are a couple of helpful tips that will keep you and your baby healthy as you share the journey of pregnancy together

  • Make sure your vaccines are up to date.
  • Seek prenatal care and schedule regular visits with your doctor during pregnancy.
  • Reduce contact with others you know to be sick
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Watch your diet.  There are many foods that pregnant women should avoid.
  • Prepare food carefully. 
  • Drink lots of water and stay hydrated. 

Help Us Spread Awareness

At Pediatrics East, we love nothing more than a happy, healthy family.  Picking your pediatrician before your baby arrives and scheduling a prenatal visit is a great way to establish a healthcare relationship for your child before they’re born.  Help us spread awareness about prenatal infection and how to prevent it by sharing this blog on your favorite social media site.  To schedule an appointment to discuss your child’s health, reach out now to learn why we’re the pediatric home of so many families throughout the mid-south.

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