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Genital herpes and pregnancy

Genital herpes doesn’t affect a woman’s ability to conceive. However, there is a small chance that the virus may be passed on to the baby during birth if the baby is born vaginally. This is referred to as neonatal herpes.

Neonatal herpes is very rare in Australia, occurring in only 8 out of every 100 000 births. All women who develop genital herpes during pregnancy should inform their obstetrician, doctor or midwife, to discuss a management plan.

Women who experience a first outbreak of genital herpes in the last trimester are at increased risk of transmitting the virus to their child and for this reason, are often considered for caesarean section delivery.

For women with a history of genital herpes before pregnancy, the risk of transmission is low. In the event of an outbreak at the time of delivery, the appropriate method of delivery should be discussed with your obstetrician, preferably early in the pregnancy.

Although rare, neonatal herpes is a serious condition which can be life threatening. If you have genital herpes and are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, it is important to speak to your obstetrician, doctor or midwife about how to minimise the risk of your baby contracting neonatal herpes.

If the mother has no history of herpes but her partner does, then there may be concerns over whether transmission will occur from the infected partner to the mother during pregnancy. It is important to document any outbreaks of herpes (genital/cold sores) of both partners during the pregnancy.

Sexual activity can continue during pregnancy; however, measures to limit transmission during pregnancy should be implemented.

These can include:

  • Abstinence during active outbreaks, especially during the third trimester
  • Find other ways to be intimate with your partner such as kissing, massaging and mutual masturbation
  • Always use condoms from start to finish every time you have sex