Infections during pregnancy can hurt both you and your baby. Thankfully, you can improve the chances that your baby will be born healthy by taking a few extra precautions and making healthy choices.
Here's what you can do while you're pregnant to protect yourself and your baby from infections.
Maintain good hygiene. Wash your hands often—especially when you're around or caring for children.
Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent infections. It's especially important to wash your hands before and/or after certain activities like after using the bathroom, before handling food, and after blowing your nose. If soap and running water are not available, you can use alcohol-based
hand sanitizer gel.
Cook your meat until it's well done. The juices should run clear and there should be no pink inside. Ground meat should be cooked to a minimum of 160°F (71° C). Cook poultry to at least 165° F (74°C). For other meat like beef and pork, cook it to a minimum of 145° F (63°C) and let it rest for several minutes after cooking. Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot. These undercooked meats and processed meats might contain harmful bacteria called
Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and foods made from it. Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, brie, and queso fresco, unless they have labels that say they are made from pasteurized milk.
Unpasteurized (raw) products can contain harmful bacteria.
Ask your doctor about Group B streptococcus (GBS). About 1 in 4 women carry this type of bacteria, but do not feel sick. An easy swab test near the end of your pregnancy will show if you have this type of bacteria. If you do have a
GBS infection, talk to your doctor about how to protect your baby during labor.
Talk to your doctor about vaccinations. Some vaccines are recommended before you become pregnant,
during pregnancy, or right after delivery. Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep you healthy. For instance, the
flu vaccine is especially important when you're pregnant. Vaccinations can also help keep your baby from getting very sick or having life-long health problems.
Get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some people that have STIs do not feel sick or have any symptoms. It's important to know if you have an STI when you're pregnant because this can have serious effects on you and your baby. If you do test positive for an STI, talk to your doctor about what you can do to protect yourself and your baby. Some STIs are treatable while you're pregnant. Be sure you're using safe sex practices to
Avoid people who have an infection. This is especially true for infections like
rubella. Chickenpox can cause pregnancy complications and birth defects; rubella can cause serious birth defects and put you at risk for miscarriage or stillbirth. Stay away from anyone who has these infections if you have not yet had them yourself or if you didn't have the vaccine(s) before you got pregnant. During the COVID-19 pandemic, be sure to follow recommended safety measures—wear a mask, avoid crowds, and practice social distancing.
Protect yourself against insects known to carry diseases. Infected mosquitos can transmit viruses like the
Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects. Tick bites can spread diseases like
Lyme disease too, which can cause pregnancy complications if it's left untreated. When mosquitoes and ticks are active, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when you're outside. Use
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus (para-menthane-3,8-diol). Avoid traveling to areas where infections can threaten you and your baby.
Do not touch or change dirty cat litter and avoid contact with potentially contaminated soil. Have someone else do it. If you must change the litter yourself, be sure to wear gloves and wash your hands afterwards. Dirty cat litter and soil might contain a harmful parasite that causes an infection called
Stay away from wild or pet rodents, lizards, and turtles, and their droppings. Have a pest control professional get rid of pests in or around your home. If you have a pet rodent, like a hamster or guinea pig, have someone else care for it until after your baby arrives. Some rodents might carry a harmful virus called
lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV).
Editor's Note: The article is published in recognition of National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Every 4½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States. Not all birth defects can be prevented. But women can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by preventing infections before and during pregnancy.