Question: My doctor told me that I have genital warts and that they may get worse during pregnancy. I am 10 weeks pregnant. Is this infection going to hurt my baby? Will I have to deliver my baby by C-section so that he doesn’t become infected?
Answer: First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy and welcome to motherhood, where you will find things to worry about for the rest of your life! It is part of “mom-law” that you will be concerned for your children’s well-being and will feel responsible. So … good news first. It’s rare for babies to catch the virus that causes genital warts from their moms. While some children do develop warts on their vocal cords or in the diaper area, it is not necessarily linked to whether the mom had genital warts during pregnancy.
Now for some background. Genital warts are caused by a sexually transmitted virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). Different strains of HPV cause different symptoms. Genital warts are most commonly caused by the benign strains of the virus, HPV 6 and HPV 11. Girls and women often catch some sort of HPV when they become sexually active, but many have no symptoms. Most of us fight off the virus with our immune systems and clear it from our bodies over several years.
In pregnancy, our immune systems are less effective—presumably to prevent our bodies from fighting off the fetus—and genital warts can worsen. You can try to treat the warts during pregnancy, but it doesn’t always work. After pregnancy, when your immune system ramps up again, treatment may be more successful.
Be sure to talk to your doctor about your worries and concerns. You can make a decision together about how aggressively you want to treat the warts during pregnancy, and see what he or she recommends about your birth options. Research findings do not support having a C-section to try to prevent transmission of HPV to the baby. The only reason warts might lead to a C-section is if the warts are so severe that your doctor feels they may bleed uncontrollably during birth, which is very unusual.
Rest assured that most moms-to-be with genital warts can have healthy pregnancies and normal deliveries. But I am sure you will find more things to worry about—after all, it’s “mom-law.”