Understand How to Avoid Infections during Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, MD

Avoid infections

There are several reasons why pregnant women need to try to avoid an infection. Some infections are worse in a pregnant woman than in a non-pregnant woman. Other infections can be passed from mom to baby, while still others could lead to problems for baby after delivery.
Just like everyone else, a pregnant woman can pick up an infection from a variety of different things. This may include from certain foods, mosquitoes, other people or animals.

Infections that cause problems

There are a number of different types of infections, which could lead to health problems for mom and her unborn child. These are the most serious:
  • Cytomegalovirus, also called CMV - This is spread through body fluids, urine, saliva or even sex. It may lead to a sore throat, body aches or a fever. If you have any of these symptoms, let your doctor know right away. You may need a blood test to determine if you have CMV.
  • Parvovirus, also called fifth disease - This is spread between people. It leads to a rash on the legs, arms, back, face and chest. It may also lead to body aches and joint pain. If you’ve spent some time close to someone with parvovirus, tell your doctor. You may need a blood test to rule out an infection.
  • Listeria - This causes back pain, chills and fever. You get it from eating food that’s spoiled. Because it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether food is spoiled, though, doctors usually recommend pregnant women stay away from things like deli meats, soft cheeses and raw milk. Your doctor may provide you with a list of all foods they want you to avoid.
  • Toxoplasmosis - You get this from either touching cat waste while changing out a litter box, or eating uncooked meat. It doesn’t usually lead to symptoms for adults.

Vaccines during pregnancy

Vaccines can help prevent deadly or serious infections. Some are safe during pregnancy. These include:
  • Influenza shot (flu shot) - The flu may cause chills, a cough, muscle aches, a sore throat or a fever. Every adult needs a flu shot every year.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis - With tetanus, your muscles begin working abnormally. With diphtheria, it leads to a thick covering over the back of your throat, which may impact breathing. Pertussis, also called whooping cough, leads to a severe cough. Every pregnant woman needs this vaccine between weeks 27-36 of their pregnancy, no matter if they’ve had it before, or not. Babies can get very sick if they come down with pertussis.

How to avoid an infection

You can try to lower the chances of getting an infection by doing these things:
  • Don’t share foods, drinks or silverware with anyone
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after you prepare food, use the bathroom, garden, touch garbage or animals, or change a diaper
  • Use bug spray to avoid mosquito bites, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and stay inside during dusk
  • Use bug spray to avoid mosquito bites, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and stay inside during dusk
  • Follow food safety tips
  • Don’t travel to certain countries where you could be at risk of serious infections
  • If there’s any chance your partner has an infection, use a condom during sex
  • Don’t change a liter box. If you need to do it, wash your hands afterwards and use gloves.
  • Don’t touch mice or rats
  • Have all family members fully vaccinated

There’s a right and a wrong way to wash your hands. The best way is to:
  • Place your hands under running water and use some soap
  • Rub your hands for 15-30 seconds. Clean in between your fingers, your fingernails and your wrists
  • Rinse your hands off
  • Dry off with a paper towel, which you can then just throw away

If there’s not a sink around, use hand gel. The best ones out there include alcohol.

Treating infections during pregnancy

The treatment of an infection during pregnancy depends on a number of things. This includes: what type of infection you have, the risk the infection could harm the mother and the risk for the baby.

If you do have an infection, make sure you ask your doctor what the right treatment is for you and your baby.

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