Don't have oral sex while pregnant, experts warn
In case you were wondering, no: having penetrative sex while pregnant will not affect your baby.
But oral sex could be a different matter, it turns out, as experts have warned that doing it during pregnancy could have negative health consequences for you and your child.
While pregnant, your immune system is compromised, meaning that you’re at a much greater risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection – especially in your third trimester.
And if you contract genital herpes during this time and don’t take necessary precautions, there’s a good chance that a vaginal delivery will result in your baby getting it too.
“The biggest risk is when a woman contracts herpes in the third trimester,” Terri Warren, a nurse practitioner specialising in herpes and the author of ‘The Good News About The Bad News: Herpes: Everything You Need to Know’, told Vice.
“If you get herpes in your third trimester, there’s a 50% chance your baby will get it at delivery.
“In the third trimester, you’re immunocompromised – that’s just a fact of pregnancy – your immune system can’t build an immune response the way you normally would.
“You’re shedding more because you have brand new infection, so that combination… and the fact that you have just a very short time before you deliver – all of that’s a perfect storm.”
And by “perfect storm”, Warren means complications including an increased likelihood of caesarean delivery, or infection at birth – which in some cases can lead to infant death.
After all, genital herpes is often contracted through oral sex. And while a fully-grown adult’s immune system can handle the virus if they get it – so they’ll likely have an uncomfortable or painful first outbreak at worst – for newborns it can be devastating.
According to the NHS, at least eight out of ten people who carry the virus are unaware they have been infected because there are often few – or no – initial symptoms.
So to avoid contracting it, experts recommend that you avoid oral sex with a partner (whether that’s a monogamous relationship or not) for the final three months of your pregnancy.
And get tested regularly. According to Warren, 30% of HSV 1 (the type of herpes transmitted orally and via the genitals) will go undetected during traditional antibody tests, but it’s worth a shot.
If you do end up contracting it during this period, it’s still better to know than not, and have time to adjust accordingly; you’d need to get onto suppressive therapy, to avoid certain invasive procedures, and might need to deliver via caesarean.
Importantly, remember that herpes is a very common condition – in fact, according to the World Health Organisation, two out of three people under the age of 50 have HSV 1. And if in a stroke of bad luck, you contract it, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
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