Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can be passed during physical, oral, or anal sex. It can occur in the reproductive organs, in the mouth, urethra, and rectum. The most common place for this bacteria in women is the cervix. Chlamydia can also be passed from the mother to the baby during a vaginal delivery when the baby passes through the birth canal. When this happens, the baby can develop lung and eye infections.
Chlamydia is the most common STI, with about 2 million cases in the U.S. reported to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) in 2018. It most commonly occurs in people between the ages of 15–24.
Chlamydia is known as a “silent” infection. About 75% of women who are infected do not experience any symptoms, and about 50% of men don’t either. Because so few people who have chlamydia express symptoms, many of them don’t even know they have it. This means people who have it may not be getting treated for it and continue to pass it along.
Our bodies do not develop immunities against chlamydia, so if you catch it once and get treatment, you can get it again.
Chlamydia can also be passed from the mother to the baby during a vaginal delivery when the baby passes through the birth canal. When this happens, the baby can develop lung and eye infections.
If a person has chlamydia, they can pass the infection along until they receive proper treatment. To treat chlamydia infection, specific antibiotics are prescribed. After receiving a diagnosis, the person is instructed not to have sex for seven days after receiving a single dose antibiotics or until they have completed a 7-day course of antibiotics. A person diagnosed with chlamydia should tell every anal, vaginal, or oral sex partner they had since 60 days before the onset of symptoms or diagnosis, so that they also get proper treatment.
Can chlamydia affect pregnancy?
There are risks associated with pregnancy and chlamydia. If you have chlamydia while pregnant, you will be given treatment to cure the infection. If you’re treated for chlamydia but your partner did not receive treatment, you can be reinfected and will need to be retested and re-treated.
The longer a person has untreated chlamydia during pregnancy, the worse the infection can become. This leads to complications of pregnancy like preterm labor, premature rupture of the membranes, and low birth weight — complications that can affect the health of your baby or make it difficult to get pregnant at all. It’s imperative to get treatment for chlamydia if pregnant.
So how can chlamydia affect pregnancy? When chlamydia is left untreated, it can turn into a severe infection called pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID. PID can cause many problems for women, including:
- Cervicitis (yellow discharge or bleeding after sex)
- Urethritis (discharge from urethra, painful urination, or increased urinary frequency)
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Painful sex (dyspareunia)
- Bleeding between periods
- Ectopic pregnancies
- The continued spread of chlamydia
If a woman develops chlamydia in pregnancy, it can cause severe complications including:
- Premature rupture of membranes
- Pre-term delivery
- Low birth weight
- Eye infections in newborns
- Lung infections in newborns
Another issue with women who have chlamydia in pregnancy is that being infected makes you more susceptible to having other STIs, such as gonorrhea or HIV.
When thinking about pregnancy and chlamydia, you may be wondering if your baby can get infected. The answer is yes, it is possible to infect your baby if you do not get proper treatment for chlamydia in pregnancy.
Chlamydia during pregnancy can infect newborn babies during vaginal delivery as they pass through the birth canal, and some common health concerns for the baby are eye and lung infections.
If you have chlamydia during early pregnancy but are treated for it, there is a good chance that your infection will clear up before your baby is born. If the infection is gone during delivery, it cannot pass on to the baby. The treatment for chlamydia in pregnancy and follow-up screenings to ensure your infection is cleared are very important.
There are some telltale signs that you have chlamydia in pregnancy. The symptoms of chlamydia are the same whether you are pregnant or not.
If you are pregnant and think you might have chlamydia, look for these common signs:
- A burning sensation during urination
- Yellow or green discharge from the vaginal area
- Low back pain and abdominal pain
- Pain during sex
According to the CDC and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), it’s recommended that all pregnant women younger than 25 years of age and older women with increased risk of chlamydia infection be screened for chlamydia during their first prenatal visit and then rescreened in the third trimester. For pregnant women with a positive result on screening, a test of cure should be performed to ensure clearance of the infection. This test is typically performed a week or two after completion of antibiotic treatment. Nucleic acid amplification tests are the most sensitive and specific tests for detecting chlamydial infections and have become the standard diagnostic and screening test.
You may be wondering what the treatment for chlamydia during pregnancy is. Chlamydia infection is always treated with antibiotics whether you are pregnant or not. But the choice of antibiotics may be different. Your doctor will prescribe you a single dose antibiotic or a 7-day course of antibiotics and will recommend a test of cure 1–2 weeks after the completion of treatment. Keep in mind that if you have chlamydia during pregnancy and you are given a round of antibiotics, you need to get a test of cure and a rescreening in the third trimester. The chances of reinfection are common with this STI. You may need another treatment for chlamydia in pregnancy if you are reinfected.
There are ways to check if you have chlamydia during early pregnancy and ways to treat and cure the infection, but how do you prevent it in the first place?
There are only two foolproof ways to avoid getting infected with chlamydia in pregnancy:
- Refrain from sexual contact of any kind
- Remain in a monogamous relationship where both partners test negative for STIs
Condoms do help somewhat, but they only prevent the spread of chlamydia during intercourse.
Chlamydia during early pregnancy can be a scary topic to think about, but it’s important.
The risks associated with chlamydia may not seem too severe, considering that many people don’t even know they have it, but it can develop into dangerous health complications, including infertility. A major risk of chlamydia during pregnancy is passing the infection to the baby. Left untreated, a chlamydia infection during pregnancy can cause premature rupture of membranes, preterm birth, and low birth weight, which have their own risks for the health of the baby.
Luckily, chlamydia is easy to test for and to treat. If you are considering pregnancy or are already pregnant, talk to your doctor about getting screened for chlamydia. The test is simple; the treatment is quick and safe, and you’ll be ensuring a healthy pregnancy for your newborn.