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Can I Give Syphilis to My Unborn Baby?

Congenital syphilis can cause serious damage to your baby and these health problems can occur during pregnancy, birth and even later in life.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (also called STD). Congenital syphilis happens when a woman passes it on to her baby. It is most often passed to baby during pregnancy, but it can also happen during vaginal birth if the baby comes into contact with a syphilis sore.

Your Baby May Have Serious Problems if Syphilis is Left Untreated

If a woman’s syphilis is left untreated, it can cause serious health issues for the baby, including death. Reports state that up to 40% (2 in 5 babies) born to women with untreated syphilis die from the infection.

Your baby can have serious health complications later in life too, even if he or she seems healthy at birth. The severity of complications depends on how long the woman was infected during pregnancy and if and when she received treatment.

Problems for Your Baby During Pregnancy

These may include:

  • Miscarriage – The spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week
  • Fetal growth restriction – When a baby doesn’t gain the weight he or she should before birth, resulting in weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Premature birth – Giving birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • Stillbirth – The loss of a baby at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Placenta and umbilical cord problems – Congenital syphilis may cause the placenta to grow large and the umbilical cord to be swollen, which can cause problems with how they work to support your baby in the womb.

Problems for Your Baby During Birth

These may include:

  • Neonatal death – This is when a baby dies in the first 28 days of life.
  • Spleen and liver problems – This includes jaundice and hepatosplenomegaly.
  • Meningitis – An infection that causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord.
  • Anemia – Anemia is when your baby doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the rest of her body.
  • Fever, Rash, Runny Nose

Problems for Your Baby Later in Life

Problems for your baby later in life may include:

  • Developmental delays – Developmental delays are when your child doesn’t reach developmental milestones when expected. Developmental milestones include walking, talking, sitting, having thinking and social skills. 
  • Nervous system problems – This includes having paralyzed arms or legs and seizures.
  • Problems with his or her bones and joints – This includes pain, swelling and conditions like saber shin, saddle nose and Hutchinson teeth.
  • Vision and Hearing Problems

Diagnosing Congenital Syphilis in Your Baby

Your baby can be diagnosed with congenital syphilis, or any STDs, during your prenatal care visits. If you had been diagnosed with syphilis prior to becoming pregnant, tell your OB/GYN about any treatment you received.

Several tests can be performed to check for congenital syphilis, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Physical exam
  • Eye exam
  • X-ray
  • Spinal tap

How is Congenital Syphilis Treated? 

If your baby has congenital syphilis, it’s important that he or she receives treatment right away to help prevent complications. Your baby can be treated with an antibiotic, either as a shot or through an intravenous line (IV).

Your provider will determine the amount of treatment your baby gets, which is determined by the infection and condition of your baby. In some cases, congenital syphilis can be completely cured. For others, they may need treatment for health conditions caused by the infection.

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Can Congenital Syphilis be Prevented? Yes, if You Protect Yourself

Congenital syphilis is completely preventable. However, the only way to prevent it is by protecting yourself from getting infected in the first place.

  • Abstain from sex – Not having sex is the best way to protect yourself from STDs, including syphilis.
  • If you do have sex, have safe sex – Protect yourself during sex. Barrier methods include male and female condoms. Dental dams, a square piece of rubber that can help protect you from STDs during oral sex, can also be used as a barrier.
  • Go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you’re feeling fine. – Women who don’t get regular prenatal care have a higher chance of contracting an STD. Going to all your prenatal appointments is crucial.
  • Get tested and treated – If you think you may have syphilis, tell your provider right away. He can test you for syphilis and begin treatment if you’re infected. The sooner you’re treated, the less likely you and your baby are to have complications from your infection.
  • Demand your partner to get tested and treated – If you get treated for syphilis, you’re no longer infected. However, you can get syphilis again if your partner is infected. Be sure your partner gets tested and treated, if needed.

Learn more about STDs and how to protect yourself.

Schedule a Screening Today

Request a confidential appointment online or call us at 770.720.7733 to make an appointment with one of our OB/GYNs to get tested today. Early diagnosis and treatment are the only ways to help protect you and your baby.