The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common sexually transmitted disease. As many as three-fourths of women will get the virus sometime in their life, though there may be no signs. You may know that you had the virus before you got pregnant, or you may learn about it when you get an abnormal pap smear at your first prenatal appointment.
HPV is almost always transmitted through genital contact. There are multiple strains of the virus. Some cause genital warts–raised bumps on your genital area that usually go away on their own. Other strains cause almost all cases of cervical cancer if they go untreated. In most cases, a woman can have a normal pregnancy if she has HPV, and her doctor will not need to make changes to her treatment because of the disease. Most will recommend treating the disease after childbirth, although there may be some cases where you have to address it sooner.
If you have the strand of HPV that causes genital warts, you may notice an increase in warts as a result of your pregnancy. This is potentially caused by changes in your hormones or from increased vaginal fluids causing a more hospitable environment. You can usually deliver vaginally with genital warts, though your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the warts before you give birth.
Since the baby will pass through your vagina, you may have some concern over whether your baby will catch the virus from you. In most cases, it is safe to have a vaginal delivery, and you will not pass the disease on to your baby. In the rare case that you do pass it, the baby’s immune system can typically fight it. In very rare cases, a baby can catch respiratory papillomatosis, which causes warts in the throat, which a doctor must treat with lasers.
If the HPV is causing abnormal cells in your cervical area, there is concern that this could cause cancer in the distant future, but your doctor will probably postpone treatment until your baby is born for fear of miscarriage. If you have genital warts that are large, your doctor may suggest removing them to aid a vaginal birth. This typically involves freezing, burning or removing them with lasers. There are prescription medications to help genital warts, but these are not recommended for pregnant women.
Some doctors will automatically suggest a C-section for women who have HPV despite the relatively rare risks associated with the disease. A C-section is a major surgery, and you should consider whether it is right for you. If you disagree with your doctor, you can seek a second opinion and switch doctors to one who wants to try a vaginal birth first, resorting to a C-section only if necessary.
- Pregnant 1 image by Infs from Fotolia.com