Infections in Pregnancy

Understanding infections in pregnancy

Pregnancy is a normal and healthy state that many women aspire to at some point in their lives. However, pregnancy can make women more susceptible to certain infections. Pregnancy may also make these infections more severe. Even mild infections can lead to serious illness in pregnant women.

Some infections that occur during pregnancy primarily pose a risk to the mother. Other infections can be transmitted to the baby through the placenta or during birth. When this occurs, the baby is at risk for health complications as well.

Some infections that develop during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, preterm labor, or birth defects. They may even be life-threatening for the mother. To complicate matters, the medications used to treat infections can cause serious side effects, especially for the baby. It’s important to try to prevent infections in pregnancy to minimize risks to both mother and baby.

Why pregnant women are more susceptible to infection

Pregnancy affects every system in your body. Changes in hormone levels and immune system function can make you more vulnerable to infections and serious complications. Labor and delivery are especially susceptible times for both you and your baby.

Changes in immunity

The immune system defends the body against harmful invaders. It fights against everything from bacteria to cancer cells to transplanted organs. A complex collection of players works together to identify and eliminate foreign intruders.

During pregnancy, your immune system changes so that it can protect both you and your baby from disease. Different parts of your immune system are enhanced while others are suppressed. This creates a balance that can prevent infection in the baby without compromising the health of the mother.

These changes also help protect your baby from your body’s defenses. In theory, your body should reject the baby as “foreign,” but it doesn’t. Similar to an organ transplant, your body sees your baby as part “self” and part “foreign.” This keeps your immune system from attacking the baby.

Despite these protective mechanisms, you’re more prone to infections that don’t normally cause illness. During pregnancy, your immune system has to work harder since it’s supporting two. This makes you susceptible to certain infections.