Can You Be Born With an STI?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are infections typically transmitted (passed) during unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner.

Babies can be born with an STI as mothers can pass these infections to their babies during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding. STIs can create pregnancy complications and health problems for the baby.

This article reviews which STIs can be passed to newborns and their effects on pregnancy, baby, and breastfeeding. It also covers STI treatment and prevention.

Pregnant woman getting a blood test, wondering about STIs

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Which STIs Can Be Passed to Newborn Babies?

Some STIs can be passed to the baby while they are still in the womb, while others are passed as the baby passes through the birth canal during delivery; some can be transmitted either way. 

Examples of STIs that can pass to your newborn include:

How STIs Affect Newborn Babies

STIs can cause problems for the baby that are apparent at birth or months to years after the baby is born. 

Premature Delivery or Low Birth Weight

STIs can cause premature delivery or low birth weight. Early (preterm) birth is the number one cause of infant fatalities (death). It can also lead to long-term developmental delays and health problems.


Some STIs lead to acute (sudden) eye, lung, blood, and joint infections. Others cause chronic illness (lifelong health problems). 

When infants live with undiagnosed or untreated HIV, it weakens the immune system and can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency sydrome). This leaves them vulnerable to life-threatening infections. HIV can also cause encephalopathy, which causes problems with brain function.

Organ Disease or Damage

Babies with untreated syphilis may have organ, bone, or brain damage. It can also cause blindness, deafness, anemia, rashes, meningitis, and nerve problems. Hepatitis can also result in liver disease, damage, or liver cancer for infants born to infected mothers. 

How STIs Affect Pregnancy

When left untreated, STIs can negatively impact your pregnancy in the following ways:

  • Premature delivery: Delivery that occurs before 37 weeks
  • Premature rupture of membranes (PROM): When the amniotic sac bursts before going into labor
  • Chorioamnionitis: Infection of the amniotic fluid and membrane
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): Infection of female reproductive organs
  • Miscarriage or stillbirth: When a baby dies in the womb before the 20th week (miscarriage) or when the baby dies in the womb after the 20th week (stillbirth)
  • Increased HIV risk: Increase risk of getting infected with HIV when having non-HIV STIs

STIs and Breastfeeding

While it’s important to discuss your specific situation with your healthcare team, here are some general guidelines regarding STIs, treatments, and breastfeeding:

  • Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HPV: It is safe to breastfeed with these STIs as they don’t pass through breast milk. Many antibiotics that treat these STIs are safe during breastfeeding, as well. 
  • Trichomoniasis: To reduce exposure to trichomoniasis, delay breastfeeding during treatment with Flagyl (metronidazole). Hold off on breastfeeding for 12 to 24 hours after your last dose. If treatment involves Fasigyn or Simplotan (tinidazole), stop breastfeeding while taking this medication. Wait to resume breastfeeding until three days after the last dose.  
  • HIV: Breastfeeding should be avoided for mothers with HIV as it can pass to the baby through breast milk.
  • HBV: A mother can transmit HBV to a baby through breast milk. However, it is safe for an infected mother to breastfeed with HBV because the infant receives their HBV vaccination within 12 to 24 hours after birth. 
  • Syphilis or herpes: It is OK to breastfeed with these STIs as long as the baby or pumping equipment does not come in contact with an open sore. 

Treating STIs

Early detection and treatment of STIs is the best way to reduce complications and transmission to your baby. Many STIs can remain undetected for a long time. This makes it essential to receive screening and testing, even if you don’t have symptoms

If you have a known exposure to an STI, see your healthcare provider immediately so they can provide testing, diagnosis, and treatment. It’s also important for your sexual partner(s) to be tested and treated. 


Antibiotics are the treatment of choice for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. Most antibiotics that treat STIs are safe for pregnant women. However, it’s best to check with your healthcare team before taking them. 

Sometimes treatment is given to both the mother and baby. For example, mothers with gonorrhea will receive oral antibiotics, and their babies get antibiotic eye ointment after birth.

Antivirals, Antibodies, and Vaccinations

There is no cure for viral infections such as herpes, hepatitis B, and HIV. However, antiviral and antibody treatments significantly reduce the impact on the mother and the risk of passing it to the baby. 

A mother can unknowingly have HBV and transmit it to the baby during delivery. This makes it especially important for newborn babies to receive their first hepatitis B (HBV) vaccination within 24 hours of birth. Babies born to mothers with known HBV will receive the vaccination within 12 hours of delivery and may also receive an antibody infusion.

Negative Effects of STI Treatment While Pregnant

While many medications used to treat STIs are safe to take during pregnancy, some are not. Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you could be pregnant.

STI treatment may also cause unwanted side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and yeast infections.

Birth Plans

You can create a birth plan with your delivery team to help prevent your baby from contracting STDs. This might include medications and discussion about having a cesarean delivery (C-section). 

Recommendations for a C-section only occur when absolutely necessary. For example, if a mother has active genital sores at the time of delivery despite antiviral medication, a C-section may be indicated. This reduces the risk of transmission while the baby is in the birth canal. 

Healthcare providers often delay treatment of small genital warts during pregnancy. However, if the warts are large enough to block the birth canal, they may recommend a C-section.

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is not considered an STI but has been associated with sexual contact and increases your risk of getting STIs. 

Having BV while pregnant can lead to multiple pregnancy complications, so receiving treatment is essential, especially if you have symptoms.

Preventing STIs

Receiving regular prenatal care reduces the risk of STI complications during pregnancy. Your healthcare provider can provide STI screening, testing, and available vaccinations. The following are also crucial STI prevention strategies:

  • Limit your number of sexual partners or abstain from sexual activity,
  • Limit sexual activity to a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner, 
  • Use condoms every time you have sex,
  • Use dental dams during oral sex,
  • Don’t share medical equipment or drug injection equipment (needles, syringes, razors, blood glucose monitoring),


Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections transmitted during sexual activity with an infected partner. Some STIs also spread through direct contact with an infected person's blood or bodily fluids. 

A pregnant person can pass some STIs to babies during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding. This can create serious pregnancy complications and health problems for the baby.

Prevention, early detection, and treatment are the best ways to protect both mothers and babies from the complications of STIs .

Antibiotics can treat and cure STIs caused by bacteria. There is no cure for STIs caused by viruses. However, treatment with antivirals or antibodies reduces harmful effects and the chance of passing the infection to the baby.

A Word From Verywell

Getting an STI while pregnant can be embarrassing, isolating, and scary. Keep in mind that early STI detection and treatment significantly reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. 

Talking to your healthcare provider about STIs may feel uncomfortable. However, this helps them know how to best care for you and your baby.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can a baby be born with an STI without you knowing it?

    Yes, babies may not show symptoms until months or years after birth. Sometimes mothers are unaware that they have an infection. Early detection and treatment through prenatal screening and testing can help the mother and healthcare providers reduce this risk.

  • Can you get STIs genetically?

    No, STIs are not transmitted genetically or through DNA. STI transmission occurs during sexual and nonsexual contact with the body fluids of an infected person. STIs can be transmitted from mother to baby through the exchange of body fluids from the placenta, birth canal, or contact with open sores.

  • How long can you have a STI without knowing?

    Many STIs can remain undetected for months or years. This is one reason prevention, screening, and testing are so important.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnancy and hiv, viral hepatitis, std, and tb prevention: hiv.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stds during pregnancy – cdc fact sheet.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnancy and hiv, viral hepatitis, std, and tb prevention: hbv.

  8. Niyibizi J, Zanré N, Mayrand M, et al. Association between maternal human papillomavirus infection and adverse pregnancy outcomes: systematic review and meta-analysis. Jour Infect Dis, 2020;221(12):1925-1937. doi:10.1093/infdis/jiaa054

  9. Coleman J, Gaydos C, Witter F. Trichomonas vaginalis vaginitis in obstetrics and gynecology practice: new concepts and controversies. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2013;68(1):43-50. doi:10.1097/OGX.0b013e318279fb7d

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding: hepatitis b or c infections.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Viral hepatitis: perinatal transmission.

  12. Bagnall, P, Rizzolo, D. Bacterial vaginosis: a practical review. J Am Acad Phys Assist. 2017;30(12):15-21. doi:10.1097/01.JAA.0000526770.60197.fa

Additional Reading

By Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC
Brandi is a nurse and the owner of Brandi Jones LLC. She specializes in health and wellness writing including blogs, articles, and education.