What to Know About HPV and Pregnancy

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that can cause an infection that’s spread through skin-to-skin contact. It can also cause some cancers later in life.

You may not have symptoms of HPV, but you may have already been infected with the virus. There are many ways the virus can affect your overall health, but people of childbearing years may be most worried about its impact on their fertility, ability to carry a pregnancy to term, and the postpartum period.

Midsection of Pregnant Woman Holding Her Belly

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HPV and Fertility

An HPV infection isn’t always diagnosed, and there can be many issues at play when fertility problems arise. However, several recent studies have found that HPV can impact sperm and other reproductive tissues and contribute to the problem.

HPV has been found in semen samples, as well as in the lining of the uterus and the ovaries. While some studies claim that high-risk HPV strains don’t have an impact on fertility, others have found that women with HPV are less likely to become pregnant, even with fertility treatments like artificial insemination.

Tests conducted at the start of fertility treatments have also found a higher prevalence of the virus in people who have fertility issues. Even when fertility treatments are used, people who have been infected with HPV are less likely to become pregnant and have higher rates of pregnancy loss.

The reasons for theses issues with fertility come from the effect that the virus can have on reproductive tissues. In one study, HPV was found in only about 10% of normal sperm samples, but 30% of sperm samples with abnormalities like low motility (ability to move) and concentration or structural defects.

Low sperm concentration and motility can make it difficult to achieve pregnancy, while structural defects can result in problems like pregnancy loss.

Is HPV Hereditary?

HPV is not hereditary, but it can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy or delivery. The virus is not likely to be passed on to your baby through breastmilk.

HPV and Gestation

If you are pregnant and have HPV, you can get genital warts or develop abnormal cell changes on your cervix. Cervical cancer is a common complication for women with some types of HPV, especially in their 40s.

With some strains of HPV, your immune system is able to keep the infection in check. In more advanced infections, reproductive tissue is altered, and this can cause problems for a pregnancy.

Some problems that have been found to occur more often in women who are infected with HPV include:

  • Preterm birth
  • Premature rupture of membranes
  • Intrauterine growth restrictions
  • Low birth weight
  • Pregnancy loss

Risks

HPV can be spread through oral, vaginal, or rectal sexual contact with an infected person. Infections may not be symptomatic. Barrier contraceptives like condoms can reduce transmission, but they won’t prevent infection entirely.

HPV can be transmitted from mothers to their babies in about 40% of cases in one study, and the risk was highest in vaginal births compared to cesarean births.

How exactly the virus is passed from mother to baby is debatable, but HPV particles have been found in amniotic fluid, the uterine lining, the placenta, and even cord blood.

Treatment

There is no real treatment for HPV. In many cases, the infection will resolve on its own. When it doesn’t, an HPV infection may be treated based on the symptoms it causes, like genital warts.

While there are prescription medications or manual removal procedures that can control or even resolve genital warts, treatment for things like cervical cancer are more complex, especially during pregnancy. After your pregnancy, abnormal cell growths caused by HPV may be addressed with methods like freezing or biopsy.

Your doctor will screen you for cervical cancer and HPV at regular intervals during your childbearing years and at the start of your pregnancy. Vaccination is recommended to prevent HPV infection in the first place and is suggested for those aged 11 to 26 years old.

HPV Doctor Discussion Guide

woman doctor discussion guide

HPV and Postpartum

Impact on Recovery

HPV should not have a major impact on your recovery during the postpartum period unless:

  • You had a cesarean section to avoid HPV transmission to your baby
  • You developed large warts from HPV and deferred removal until after delivery
  • You delayed treatment for HPV-related issues like cervical cancer due to pregnancy

If you put off treatments because of your pregnancy, it is important to discuss a plan with your doctor about when to begin or resume treatments after delivery. Some treatments, especially for certain cancers, may affect your ability to care for yourself and others.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is generally not a concern for people with HPV. Although numerous studies in recent years have debated if—and to what extent—the virus can be passed through breastmilk, recent research suggests that transmission risk through breastfeeding is low.

According to one recent study, HPV was detected in 10% of breastmilk samples three days after delivery and nearly 30% six months later. Despite the presence of the virus in breastmilk, oral transmission to partners was common while transmission to babies was not.

Summary

Some research has shown that HPV may have a negative impact on semen quality, and HPV has been associated with fertility issues and pregnancy loss. An HPV infection has been associated with preterm birth, low birth weight, and intrauterine growth restriction. You can pass the virus on to your baby during vaginal delivery, so your doctor may recommend cesarean delivery instead.

A Word From Verywell

HPV is a common virus that can cause serious complications like cervical cancer. It’s difficult to avoid it completely, but the dangers it presents to you and your baby during pregnancy are small.

Keeping your body healthy to fight infection is important, and you can reduce your risk of transmission by practicing safe sex. Fertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization may help if HPV has caused you or your partner fertility issues.

Talk to your doctor about getting screened for HPV, vaccinated against the virus, and how to manage HPV if you become infected.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does HPV affect pregnancy and childbirth?

HPV can affect pregnancy and childbirth if it advances to the point of causing large genital warts or cervical cancer. In most cases, HPV will not harm your baby, but it may be passed on to them. Some people with HPV have increased rates of pregnancy complications like premature rupture of membranes (water breaking early), but more research is needed.

When do they test for HPV while pregnant?

You will be screened for a number of infections at the beginning of your pregnancy, typically at your first prenatal appointment. Testing will usually include screening for HPV and cervical cancers.

How can you get pregnant if you have HPV?

You can still get pregnant if you have HPV. In some cases, male partners may have decreased sperm counts or motility due to the HPV infection. For females. there are no major issues that would prevent pregnancy, unless HPV has advanced to cause conditions like cervical cancer.

How can you get pregnant and not pass on HPV?

There is no way to prevent the transmission of HPV to your baby when you are pregnant, but the risk may be minimized if you have the infection under control and opt for cesarean delivery. This could include controlling outbreaks of warts from HPV and making sure your immune system is strong enough to keep infections in control.

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7 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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