Infections in pregnancy and newborns – what types of infection are common and how are they treated?

7 Min Read

Being told that you have an infection whilst you are pregnant can be a worrying time, and you will likely be concerned about the potential impact on your baby.  Fortunately, most infections won’t harm you or your baby, but this isn’t always the case.

This article deals with a few of the infections we believe parents need to be aware of.  However, if you have any infection in pregnancy, or come into contact with someone infectious, it is important that you get advice from your midwife and/or GP.

Neonatal herpes

Neonatal herpes is a condition which impacts babies in the first 4 weeks of life. It is often passed on to babies during labour, through physical contact with adults and children who have or have had a virus such as cold sores or genital herpes (even when they do not have symptoms) or by coming into contact with a surface with the virus on. This is why parents are often advised not to let people other than themselves kiss their newborn babies and for everyone to wash their hands before touching the baby. It can also occur during pregnancy but this is far less common.

Neonatal herpes is rare but can have extremely serious consequences, including causing severe disability and death.  To help reduce the impact of the infection, it is important that it is recognised and treated early.  This can be difficult as babies do not always have obvious symptoms but can deteriorate quickly. Therefore, it is important that parents look out for any symptoms which may suggest their baby has an infection, such as being floppy, grunting or struggling to breath, a change in their cry (particularly if it is high pitched), a very high or low temperature, or being irritable and extremely tired.

If your baby is diagnosed with neonatal herpes, they will likely be given antiviral medication for 2 to 3 weeks straight away.  This is through a drip directly into their blood supply.

The Kit Tarka Foundation has more information on neonatal herpes.

CMV (cytomegalovirus)

CMV is a common virus and again is a type of herpes.  In adults, it is usually perfectly harmless.  However, if you are told you have the antibodies for CMV during your pregnancy, it is important to find out whether these are from a new infection or an old infection, as this will impact the likely risk for your baby.

If it is an old infection (you were infected before pregnancy) it is likely that you baby will be fine.  However, if you are infected during your pregnancy, it may have a substantial impact on your baby if the infection is passed on (congenital CMV). This risk is higher if you have never had CMV before.

The infection can cause things such as hearing loss, visual impairments and learning difficulties, and in severe cases, babies can pass away.  According to Tommy’s around 1 in 150 babies are born with congenital CMV and most of these babies are absolutely fine. However, approximately 1 in 1000 of all babies born each year (so including those who are not infected) have permanent disabilities as a result of CMV.

As the likelihood of your baby being fine is high, it is unlikely that a diagnosis of CMV will change the care you receive in pregnancy.  There is also currently no treatment for CMV in pregnancy.  If during scans or other routine care it is felt that your baby may be severely impacted by the infection (for example, if your baby is not growing/developing properly) you may be offered a termination.  If this happens, the charity ARC may be able to offer you support to help you fully understand your options.

If you have been told you have CMV during pregnancy, you may find it helpful to contact CMV Action which offers support to families impacted by CMV.

GBS (Group B streptococcus / group B strep)

Usually, GBS is harmless and people often don’t even know they have it.  However, it can cause problems if it is passed onto your baby.  This is most likely to happen during labour and can cause a serious infection (such as sepsis, pneumonia or meningitis) in your newborn soon after they are born, or up to around 3 months later.

If you are diagnosed with GBS during pregnancy, or you have had a baby with a GBS infection previously, you should be given antibiotics during labour.  This will reduce the chance of the infection being passed onto your baby. If you have any concerns, you may find it helpful to contact the charity GBSS.

GBS testing in pregnancy isn’t routinely offered unless you are high risk or symptomatic.  Therefore, if you have any concerns, you may want to request a test from your midwife or doctor, or you can pay for a test privately.  This should be done towards the end of your pregnancy.

It is important to remember that whilst infections can cause serious harm, most babies with a GBS infection are fine, especially if the infection is recognised and treated early.

If you would like to read one of our client stories and how we were able to help them after their baby was severely disabled after a failure to recognise an infection caused by GBS, please click here.

Chorioamnionitis

Chorioamnionitis is when the membrane and/or amniotic fluid around your baby during pregnancy becomes infected.  The infection is often caused by a bacteria moving up through the vagina and cervix but it can also be passed through the placenta or happen as a result of certain types of testing such as amniocentesis.

If you have any infection, you may not have any symptoms.  However, you should be on the lookout for things such as a high temperature, pain in or around your bump, your heart beating faster than normal or a change in your vaginal discharge.

If your midwife or doctor think you may have an infection, they should check your blood or perform a vaginal swab. If you have chorioamnionitis, you should be admitted to hospital and given antibiotics through a drip.

If you have an infection during labour, the doctor may give you medication to speed up the process or recommend that your baby’s heartbeat is checked regularly with a CTG (cardiotocography) machine. A CTG listens to your baby’s heartbeat and records this onto graph paper so that midwives and doctors can monitor your baby’s heartbeat over a period of time.

Once you baby is born, they will be examined carefully to check that they are healthy.  Extra help on a neonatal intensive care/special baby care unit or antibiotics may be given.

How Enable Law can help you?

We have acted for mums who did not receive the right care during their pregnancy, including failures to prevent, diagnose and treat infections in pregnancy and labour.  These failures caused their babies to sadly pass away, or be born with significant disabilities.

A medical negligence claim is an opportunity for parents and their families to make sure the same mistakes aren’t made again. If you have any worries or concerns about whether your baby died or suffered an injury because something went wrong with your care, Enable Law can work with you to help you get the answers you need.

We recognise the devastating impact that a baby’s death can have. We will work with you to determine what happened, whether the care provided was appropriate and are committed to helping you get the answers you need.

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Nicola Rawlinson-Weller

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Jennifer Janes

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