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HSV-1 & Pregnancy: How to Avoid Infecting Your Baby

hsv1 and pregnancy

No mother wants to transfer cold sores to her baby, but if you have herpes, it’s a risk that needs to be addressed. Fortunately, it’s uncommon for a newborn to contract HSV-1 from her mother. Research shows that herpes infection occurs in less than 1% of births. There are many risk mitigation steps that doctors recommend to keep your baby safe, healthy, and protected throughout pregnancy, labor, and the early newborn phase.

The Differences Between HSV-1 and HSV-2

Herpes is a contagious virus spread from one person to another. It’s an incurable condition that may present outbreaks of ulcers around the mouth or genitals from time to time. Cold sores and genital herpes are both members of the Herpesviridae family of DNA viruses, so they share many of the same characteristics and symptoms, including recurring infections and painful sores. However, each condition is caused by a different strain of the herpes simplex virus (HSV) Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is a highly contagious infection known mainly for causing cold sores around the mouth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 47.8% of Americans aged 14 to 49 have HSV-1, though many never develop symptoms. A tingling or burning sensation marks the first sign a cold sore outbreak is about to erupt around the mouth and lips. Cold sores tend to cause pain and discomfort for seven to ten days until they burst, scab, and heal. Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is the form of herpes most likely to affect the genitals. This type of herpes is usually transmitted through intimate contact and isn’t quite as common as HSV-1; it impacts about 12% of American adults. These painful sores eventually break open and may cause flu-like symptoms. After the first outbreak, recurring genital herpes outbreaks tend to heal within three to seven days. The number of outbreak periods may even decrease over time. It was once believed that only HSV-1 caused cold sores and only HSV-2 caused genital herpes, but that generalized statement is no longer true. Research now shows that up to 42% of genital herpes in females is actually caused by HSV-1, not HSV-2.

HSV-1 & Pregnancy: Can Pregnant Women Infect Their Babies?

Women who acquire herpes during pregnancy or experience reactivation of the virus during pregnancy have the potential to transmit HSV-1 to their baby. Of the babies who do contract herpes, 85% become infected when passing through the birth canal during delivery. The other 15% most likely are exposed to HSV-1 when an infected adult with an active cold sore, like a parent or grandparent, touches or kisses the newborn.

The good news, however, is that women who have genital herpes before they become pregnant have a very low risk of transmitting the virus to their babies during pregnancy and delivery. These women already have the antibodies in place and share those antibodies through the placenta. Even if herpes is active in the birth canal during delivery, most babies are protected by their mother’s shared antibodies. This explains why less than 1% of babies become infected with herpes, even though up to 25% of women have genital herpes. Though rare, neonatal herpes is a serious condition that poses extreme risks to developing and newborn babies. An aggressive herpes infection may cause lasting damage to a baby’s central nervous system and lead to brain trauma or death. 

HSV1 and pregnancy

How to Protect Your Baby from HSV-1

Protecting your baby from herpes is relatively easy when using these precautions:

  • -Do not have sex with new partners
  • -If your partner has herpes, do not engage in sex during any active outbreaks
  • -Deliver via Cesarean section if you have an active outbreak at the time of delivery
  • -Take antiviral medication to prevent the spread of herpes during and after labor
  • -Do not kiss your baby when you have a cold sore and ask others not to
  • -Always wash your hands before touching your baby
  • -Ask your doctor to test your newborn’s blood for herpes to determine any potential need for antiviral treatment

Thanks to the accessibility of antiviral medication and the C-section alternative to vaginal birth, it’s completely possible to protect your baby from an active herpes infection.

Avoid HSV-1 Outbreaks Using the Luminance RED

Another good way to avoid infecting your baby is to prevent outbreaks by using the Luminance RED. The Luminance RED offers FDA-Registered, clinically proven technology that reduces healing time and prevents the reoccurrence of outbreaks.

Don't leave the threat of HSV-1 and pregnancy to chance. Use a safe, highly effective treatment like the Luminance RED to treat and prevent outbreaks and protect your baby.

Breastfeeding With HSV-1

Breastfeeding is one of the most natural and intimate ways to bond with your newborn baby, but you may feel hesitant if you have HSV-1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mothers with HSV can continue to breastfeed as long as no lesions are present on the breasts. If lesions exist anywhere else on the body, they must remain carefully and fully covered. Only mothers with active, open herpes lesions on the breast should stop breastfeeding until the outbreak heals completely. Doctors even recommend throwing away any expressed breast milk from the affected breast to avoid all potential avenues of infection.

HSV1 and pregnancy

What to Do If Your Baby Gets Herpes

The HSV-1 virus is relatively harmless- albeit frustrating and pesky- for adults, but it can be extremely dangerous in newborn babies. This is why it’s critical to act quickly if you suspect your baby is infected with herpes. The main symptom of a neonatal herpes simplex virus infection is a rash of blisters on your baby’s body. This rash may be accompanied by a high fever, unusual irritability, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Even the smallest sign of a localized herpes infection must be controlled to prevent widespread infection into the central nervous system and brain:

  • -Diagnosis of a sample taken from blisters
  • -Antiviral medication treatment such as acyclovir
  • -Supplemental fluids or breathing support as needed

As long as the herpes infection is caught and treated early, while it still only affects your baby’s skin, she should be able to make a full recovery and lead a normal, healthy life.

Consult Your Doctor or Midwife Regarding HSV-1 & Pregnancy

When it comes to conditions as serious as neonatal herpes, it’s always best to consult your doctor or midwife. Prevention is the very best way to ensure your herpes infection never impacts your child.

The medical experts supporting you through your pregnancy know better than anyone how to identify signs of herpes and prevent the spread of your infection to your newborn.

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