Pregnancy Problems

HPV During Pregnancy

If you have HPV, you're probably wondering how it will affect you and baby throughout pregnancy. We've got answers.

What is HPV during pregnancy?

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted infection. There are many different strains of HPV. Some, called high-risk HPV, can cause cervical cancer. Others, called low-risk HPV, can cause genital warts: raised or flat, round (yep, wart-like) growths on the genitals.

What are the signs of HPV?

HPV usually doesn’t have any symptoms. If you get genital warts, they’re most likely to occur around or on the labia, but warts can also grow in the vagina and on the cervix. Sometimes the warts will grow together and look kind of like a cauliflower and may bleed.

Are there any tests for HPV?

A Pap smear can check for HPV on your cervix. Genital warts are often diagnosed by a physical exam.

How common is HPV during pregnancy?

It might be more common than you think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 50 percent of sexually active people get HPV at some point in their lives.

How did I get HPV?

By sexual contact. Condoms may help decrease the spread of HPV, but because genital warts can occur on the skin outside of the condom, it’s possible to get them even while having condom-protected sex.

How will my HPV affect my baby?

The risk to your baby is small. At birth, babies of infected moms “can get little polyps on their vocal cords, but that happens very, very rarely,” says Sharon Phelan, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico. If the warts obstruct the birth canal, a c-section might be necessary — but that’s really rare too (see next page for treatments, prevention and more resources).

What’s the best way to treat HPV during pregnancy?

Most of the time, no treatment is necessary during pregnancy. Various topical meds can be used to “freeze off” genital warts; some of those can be used, if needed, during pregnancy. If the warts are really extensive, they can be removed surgically.

What can I do to prevent HPV or genital warts?

Your best bet: Don’t have sex with someone who has HPV or genital warts. Your next best bet: practicing safer sex. Using condoms can decrease, but not entirely eliminate, your chances of getting genital warts.

What do other pregnant moms do when they have HPV or genital warts?

“After having normal Paps, I got an abnormal one early on in the pregnancy. I had a colposcopy, and everything looked ‘okay.’ I’ll be getting another Pap in the next few weeks.”

“I had a LEEP years ago to remove cells (part of the reason for my short-cervix issues now). Last year, my doctor started doing HPV blood work, and I always come back positive, but my Paps have been normal. I get one every six months now but refuse to do a colposcopy for fear that I’ll further damage my cervix. As long as my Paps keep coming back normal, I'm okay with that.”

“I had an abnormal Pap last year. I went in for a colposcopy (the doctor said it looked good, and I had mild dysplasia). Had a follow-up Pap in July (the doctor said that Pap came back abnormal and I needed another colposcopy in November). Since then, I’ve changed OBs because the old one was too far, and I wanted to start a relationship with the new one before I got pregnant.”

Are there any other resources for HPV or genital warts?

US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health

March of Dimes

Plus, more from The Bump:

STDs During Pregnancy

Pap Smears During Pregnancy

Genital Herpes During Pregnancy

By Jennifer L.W. Fink