Can STDs Pass Through Breast Milk from Mother to Baby?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are most often examined in the context of transmission from one adult to another. It’s also possible for an infection to be passed from a mother to her child, however. Congenital syphilis is one such condition and the infection rates have been going up lately.

Congenital STDs are usually considered a threat during childbirth and during the pregnancy itself. But is it possible for a mother to pass a condition on to her child while breastfeeding? The answer is yes, especially when it comes to some of the most common sexually transmitted infections.

STDs That Can Spread Through Breastfeeding

While breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for a newborn or a baby, there may be some risks linked to it.

Did you know that about one third of HIV-positive children in developing countries get infected during breastfeeding? While the phenomenon is less widespread in developed economies, HIV transmission through breastfeeding still poses risks.

The risk of transmission depends on several factors.

A person who has undetectable viral load (these are individuals who are on an antiretroviral therapy regimen) carries a significantly lower risk of HIV transmission than a mother who doesn’t know her status and who isn’t on medications yet.

Whenever antiretrovirals do their job, the presence of the virus in bodily fluids is diminished significantly and it can even be eliminated altogether. When this happens, a doctor can make an adequate recommendation concerning breastfeeding.

HIV-positive women in Western countries are advised against breastfeeding their babies to eliminate the risk of an infection altogether. When a person doesn’t know their status, however, the risk for a child remains high.

The herpes simplex virus is another one that poses concerns when it comes to babies. HSV can’t pass through breast milk itself. Sores or small open wounds on the nipples, however, can increase the risk of transmission. Anyone who has breastfed knows that the early stages are linked to some irritation and wounding. Hence, a risk of transmitting herpes does exist.

Syphilis can spread in a similar way. Contact with open sores or wounds increases the risk of transmission and breastfeeding can create the conditions that the bacterium needs to proliferate and infect an infant.

Breastfeeding and STD Medications

Most pregnant women are tested for the most common STDs because these can increase various risks for the foetus. Hence, unless a person has acquired a brand new infection, pregnancy screening panels will identify STDs like syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV and hepatitis B.

In this scenario, we have to discuss the important question of breastfeeding while taking medications for the treatment of a sexually transmitted infection.

Healthcare providers will always weigh the risks for the mother and the baby whenever prescription-strength medications are administered. Experienced doctors will seek the treatment plan that will incorporate the mildest type of medication. The majority of pharmaceutical products will be excreted to a degree in breast milk, which can be a problem.

STDs caused by bacteria are treated with antibiotics. There are antibiotic products out there deemed compatible with breastfeeding. Anyone who intends to breastfeed their child should let a doctor know in order to get prescribed an effective and safe medicine.

Some antiviral products are also considered low risk and compatible with breastfeeding.

The antiretroviral medications used for the treatment of an active HIV infections are also compatible with breastfeeding (as long as the viral load is undetectable and there is no risk of passing the virus to a baby).  In fact, some doctors will prescribe such medications to babies in order to lower all chances of transmission from the mother.

It’s important to understand, however, that even if the viral load is undetectable, the risk of transmission isn’t a zero. There’s still about one per cent chance of passing the virus to a baby via breastfeeding. This is why a mother and her physician will need to carefully analyse the situation and determine the course of action that is best and safest for everyone involved.

Ongoing Testing Before, During and After Pregnancy

Sexually transmitted diseases have the power to impact multiple lives negatively. And when it comes to innocent new human beings, the importance of offering reliable protection increases.

STD testing is the only way to find out if you have a condition. Many STDs will remain asymptomatic for months, even years. Anyone who is intending to get pregnant needs to have a thorough STD panel first. Some STDs can make a pregnancy difficult to achieve while others will increase the risk of complications while carrying a child.

Luckily, tests for the most widespread sexually transmitted infections are readily accessible in Singapore.

Sexual health facilities like Shim Clinic offer readily available consultations and STD testing. Depending on the situation, you’ll get suggestions aimed at offering you better protection and STD management.

If you and your partner are considering a pregnancy in the near future, visit Shim Clinic during working hours every day of the week. This is also very important for high risk individuals who have multiple partners and who think they may be pregnant. Do you have questions about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and STDs? Contact Shim Clinic now to find out more.