Can My Baby Get the Human Papillomavirus?
HPV, the human Papillomavirus, is so common that there are bound to be pregnant women with the disease. In most cases, HPV has no effect on the developing fetus and often has no impact on prenatal care. Still, you'll want to let your doctor know if you have HPV.
Women who have regular Pap smears can considered themselves screened for the disease, since any abnormal results would have alerted the doctor to screen for HPV. Pap tests are also taken at the first prenatal visit, so unless your doctor spots something on test results that suggests a need for further testing, you can assume you don't have HPV.
To test for HPV, cells are collected from the cervix and analyzed for the high risk forms of HPV that are associated with cancer. Sometimes the doctor will decide to do a colposcopy with a lighted device to examine the cervix for abnormal tissue changes.
A woman with a history of genital warts, abnormal Pap tests, or other problems, should tell her doctor so she can be monitored during the more rapid cell changes that can occur during pregnancy. Such monitoring is most valuable for women with the high risk strains of HPV associated with cervical cancer.
Risk is Low
If tissue changes do occur during the pregnancy, doctors will try to postpone treatment since this may lead to premature labor.
If a pregnant woman has genital warts, a symptom of HPV, the doctor will monitor their growth since the hormonal changes of pregnancy can cause such warts to grow larger or multiply. Sometimes the warts bleed. Again, treatment will most often be postponed until after childbirth with the exception of warts that grow so large as to pose an obstruction to the birth canal. Genital warts can be removed through surgery, with chemical treatment, or with painless electrical currents.
While the risk is slight, if babies do get the HPV virus, most times their bodies clear the virus of their own accord. In very rare cases, a baby will develop warts in the throat. This is called respiratory papillomatosis and is a serious condition treated with frequent laser surgery so as to prevent the warts from blocking the baby's airways.
Doctors disagree about the value of Caesarian section as a means of preventing HPV transmission to the newborn. The controversy stems from the fact that the risk of transmission is slight and even should transmission occur, the baby's system clears out the virus on its own, most of the time. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists believe that the risks of surgery do not outweigh any possible benefit.