Could your unborn baby be affected by an illness you’re carrying? There are tests to ease your health worries.
You’ll most likely have a safe, uncomplicated pregnancy, but your unborn baby could be harmed by chlamydia, chickenpox, Group B streptococcus, diabetes, toxoplasmosis and slapped cheek disease.
We look at how to know if you're at risk, what tests you can have, and what to expect next.
This sexually transmitted infection often has no symptoms, but if untreated can increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy. The infection can also be transmitted to your unborn baby and may cause miscarriage, premature birth or eye and lung infections following the birth.
Talk to your midwife or GP about having a test if you experience:
A swab, a bit like a cotton bud, is dipped into your vagina. Results will take a few days.
If chlamydia is detected, it can be treated easily with a course of antibiotics.
“There was nothing to the test. Rob and I both took a course of antibiotics and it cleared up in no time,” says Sandra, 22, 8 months pregnant.
If you catch chickenpox before you’re 20 weeks pregnant pregnant, it can affect your unborn baby. The highest risk is when you’re between 13 weeks and 20 weeks, when there’s a one in 50 chance of your baby developing an abnormality.
If you develop chickenpox after 36 weeks, medication will be needed to reduce the symptoms as your baby could be born with chickenpox, making him sick and he may need antiviral drugs to reduce the risk of complications.
If you’ve had chickenpox before, you’re immune to it, and your baby will be safe. So if you’re not sure whether you’ve had it, you should be tested.
Your midwife or GP will take a blood sample and you’ll get the results in a few days.
If the test shows you’ve had chickenpox in the past, no further action is needed. If you discover you’re not immune, avoid contact with anyone who may be infected. If you are exposed to chickenpox you can be offered an injection, to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
“I panicked when Julianne got chickenpox while I was pregnant with Annie. I phoned my midwife, as I couldn’t remember if I’d had it myself, and she did a blood test that day which came back showing I was immune,” says Gemma, 28, mum to Julianne, 5, and Annie, 6 weeks.
Around one in three people carries Group B strep. It only becomes a problem if it causes a vaginal infection, as it can be transferred to your baby during or following birth. Up to 700 babies a year develop Group B strep infection and it can be life-threatening.
If you’ve had a previous baby affected by Group B strep tell your midwife as you’ll be advised to have intravenous antibiotics.
Look out for symptoms of a vaginal infection, such as:
There could be no symptoms at all, so you may want to have the test to be on the safe side.
A swab is taken from your vagina and/or bottom.
The charity Group B Strep Support recommends a more sensitive test, which isn’t available from most NHS hospitals, so you’d have to pay to have it done privately. Details can be found at Group B Strep Support.
If you have Group B strep, you’ll have intravenous antibiotics once labour begins, ideally starting at least four hours before your baby is born, to reduce the risk of Group B strep transferring to your baby.
Antibiotics are also recommended if:
“I was really worried when I found out I had group B strep. But my midwife explained many women carry the bacteria. Peter was fine when he was born, even though I only managed to have the antibiotics an hour before the birth as he arrived so quickly!” says Carol, 37, mum to Ruth, 4, and Peter, 5 weeks
Diabetes can develop at any time, including during pregnancy when it’s referred to as ‘gestational diabetes’.
It’s not necessary for every mum-to-be to be routinely tested for all these conditions, but there are simple tests that could protect you and your unborn baby if you are at risk.
Anne Richley, midwife
You should ask your midwife or GP for a test if you:
You fast overnight, then have a blood test, followed by a glucose drink, and then another blood test. Results can be back in a matter of hours.
If you have diabetes, you may be able to control it with diet and exercise. You may need prescribed injections of insulin to keep blood sugar levels within a normal limit.
“My sister has diabetes, so I wasn’t surprised to get it. All the hospital appointments were a bit of a pain, but a small price to pay for a healthy baby,” says Mara, 33, mum to Faiza, 8 months.
Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite found in raw or undercooked meat, unpasteurised goats’ milk, cat faeces or soil fouled by cats.
If you have it in pregnancy, there’s a 40% chance your baby will be affected.
Toxoplasmosis can cause:
Up to 50% of us get toxoplasmosis at some point in our lives. Healthy people often won’t display symptoms – but once you’ve had it, you’re usually immune.
Talk to your GP about having a test if you:
It’s a simple blood test. Results come in around a week.
Antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce the likelihood of passing it on to your baby.
“I own three cats, so I asked my GP for the blood test before I even got pregnant. It showed I was immune, but having the test made me feel better as I knew my baby wasn’t at risk,” says Leah, 34, mum to Frank, 5 months
Slapped cheek disease is also called ‘fifth disease’ or ‘Parvovirus B19’. It’s a common childhood virus often affecting children at nursery. It’s thought around 60% of us adults are immune, having had it as children.
If you develop Parvovirus B19 in pregnancy, you’ll most likely still have a healthy baby. However, if you contract it between 9-20 weeks of pregnancy, there’s a 15% risk of miscarriage and 0.6% chance of your baby developing foetal hydrops, which can lead to stillbirth.
If you suspect you or your children have it, contact your midwife or GP.
For you as an adult, symptoms include:
It’s just a simple blood test.
If you have it, you’ll be offered scans and monitored to check on any effects to your baby.
“I was around 20 weeks pregnant when I felt off-colour and had achy joints. The next day I had a red rash all over. Parvovirus was confirmed and the consultant advised weekly scans to check my baby. Thankfully I gave birth at 41 weeks to a healthy baby girl,” says Jo, 37, mum to Daisy, 4.
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