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anonymous on September 7, 2011

I’m pregnant and I think I have genital warts...will they affect the baby or delivery?

I just found out I’m pregnant...and I think I may have genital warts. I have small bumps on my labia, but nowhere else. The bumps are sometimes itchy. My husband doesn’t have any visible signs of bumps on his penis. If I do have genital warts, can I treat or cure them during pregnancy? Do genital warts affect the baby during delivery? Should I ask my doctor for a test when I go for a check up, or just wait until I have the baby if there’s nothing I can do before birth?

answered by Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on September 7, 2011

First, congratulations on your pregnancy and thanks so much for your excellent questions. I understand your concern about the bumps you on your labia...I’ll try to help you sort out your options.

First, you should definitely talk to your doctor if you think you might have genital warts. If you do have genital warts, you can and should be treated...but, because you’re pregnant, your treatment will be a little different. Additionally, your obstetrician needs to know about your genital warts so that your baby can be delivered in the healthiest possible way.

You’re right that the small bumps on your labia could be genital warts. Only your regular doctor will be able to diagnose genital warts or a different cause of your symptoms, so please don’t delay in making an appointment. Also, be aware that genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), and that a lot of people who have the virus don’t show any symptoms. In fact, if you do have genital warts, it’s likely that your husband has the virus, too...even though he has no visible signs thereof.

Unfortunately, sometimes women experience a worsening of genital warts with pregnancy. It’s possible that your recent pregnancy “activated” HPV that was already in your body. Doctors think that pregnant women have a harder time with genital warts because their immune systems aren’t working as hard in order to protect the baby. That’s great for your baby (because it means your body won’t attack the baby inside you)...but it sometimes means that other diseases, like genital warts, have a chance to act up.

Genital warts can’t be cured, but they can be treated effectively. Treatment for genital warts when you’re pregnant is pretty similar to the treatment you’d get if you weren’t pregnant...with a few exceptions. You doctor might opt for a special ointment or  for “cryotherapy.” (Cryotherapy is another word for using a small tool to freeze the warts.) Both of these treatments work to address genital warts in pregnant women, but sometimes it takes a few tries.

In terms of giving birth...researchers aren’t quite sure how some mothers pass HPV to their babies during childbirth. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there’s no reason to opt for a cesarean section because it doesn’t seem like the procedure prevents HPV from passing to the baby. Luckily, the virus that causes genital warts doesn’t transfer to babies very often...a very small number of children develop respiratory problems when their mom has the virus, but that’s extremely rare.

In addition to screening for genital warts, if you (and your husband) haven’t been tested for STDs recently...

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, HIV and syphilis for pregnant women so that, if you or your husband have any of these infections, you can get treatment and your doctor can help you take appropriate precautions to ensure a safe and healthy delivery of your baby.

Again, I encourage you and your husband to get tested...and to talk to your doctor about your symptoms, soon. Also, you might want to check out our Expert Guides for more detailed information about the risks, symptoms, possible complications and treatments for HPV and the other STDs I mentioned. Good luck, and I wish you a happy, healthy pregnancy and delivery.

Related info:

Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD

Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Analyte Physicans Group. She's also a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, practicing at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois and at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Medical Center in Wisconsin. An ER physician since 2000, she regularly treats patients with STDs. Dr. Cunningham was educated at Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL.

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