Should I Have a Vaginal Birth with Herpes?

Photo of a newborn baby

If you are pregnant and have herpes, you may wonder, "Should I have a vaginal birth with herpes?"

Understanding Neonatal Herpes Risk

Neonatal herpes (transmission of herpes to newborn) is quite rare. According to, only approximately .1 percent of newborns contract the disease from the 20-25 percent of pregnant women with herpes. There is only a .04 percent risk of transmission to the newborn if the mother contracts the sexually transmitted disease before pregnancy. The greatest risk occurs if a woman gets herpes in the last trimester since she may not know she has contracted the disease and is not taking antibiotics.

How Herpes Infects a Newborn

The transmission of herpes to a newborn happens during delivery while the newborn is in the birth canal. During an active outbreak during delivery, the newborn may come in contact with the HPV-1 or HPV-2 string of the virus.

In 5 percent of the cases of mothers who have herpes, the disease passes the placenta, infecting the fetus.

How Your Newborn is Naturally Protected

The good news is that if you've had herpes for years, your body has most likely built up antibodies to the virus, which crossed the placenta to protect the fetus. These antibodies protect the newborn against contracting the virus in the birth canal.

Risks When Herpes is Contracted During Pregnancy

The greatest risk to a newborn is if the mother contracts herpes during the last few weeks of pregnancy. While the first and second trimesters don't pose as much of a risk because of the antibodies produced, the last trimester may not be enough time for the antibodies to cross the placenta. The other problem lies in that the mother may not experience symptoms and not know she has the disease, increasing the chance of having an outbreak during delivery.

The Effects of Herpes on a Newborn

There is a 50 percent chance a newborn will suffer from the ill effects of herpes transmission. If the newborn does contract the disease, mental retardation, serious neurological damage, or death can occur. This is the main reason why so many women are concerned and ask, "Should I have a vaginal birth with herpes?"

Answering the Question: Should I Have a Vaginal Birth With Herpes?

Whether you should have a vaginal birth depends on when you contracted the virus and if you are having an outbreak during delivery. If you openly discuss your disease with your obstetrician, he/she will be able to recommend whether or not you should do a vaginal birth.

Remember, if you've had it for a while your body has probably passed antibodies to your baby. It is also rare for a newborn to contract the disease even if the mother has it.

If you don't know if you have herpes but suspect that you might, it is imperative that you speak to your obstetrician so you can get tested. Don't ignore symptoms or suspicion that you contracted the disease because if you are close to delivery, you may end up putting your baby at unnecessary risk. If you find out that you do have herpes, you can ask about medication and whether you can still have a vaginal birth or schedule a c-section.

Should I Have a Vaginal Birth with Herpes?