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Protect Your Unborn Baby or Newborn from Infections

Baby sleeping on mother's stomachIf you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy, there are simple steps you can take to protect your unborn baby or newborn from infections that cause serious health problems.

Group B Strep

If you are pregnant—or know anyone who is—you need to know about group B strep. About a quarter of all women carry the bacteria that cause group B strep infection. Group B strep bacteria are usually not harmful to you and won't make the people around you sick. But these bacteria can be very dangerous for your newborn. Babies can get very sick and even die if their mothers pass group B strep bacteria to them during childbirth. That's why it's so important for you to get tested for group B strep each time you get pregnant.

If you are pregnant and test positive for group B strep, doctors can give you an antibiotic (usually penicillin) during labor that prevents the bacteria from spreading to your baby.


  • Ask your healthcare provider for a group B strep test when you are 35–37 weeks pregnant.
  • If the test shows that you carry the bacteria, talk with a health care provider. Be sure to tell them if you are allergic to penicillin or other antibiotics.
  • If you go into labor before you are tested for group B strep, ask your healthcare provider if you should be given antibiotics because of the risk of spreading group B strep to your newborn.

More Information on Group B Strep and Your Pregnancy

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

A pregnant woman infected with CMV can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy. Most babies born with CMV infection will be fine and will not have symptoms or develop health problems. However, some babies will have permanent problems, such as hearing or vision loss or mental disabilities, at birth, or develop problems later on.

CMV is passed from infected people to others through body fluids, such as saliva, urine, blood, vaginal secretions, and semen. Infants and young children are more likely to shed CMV in their saliva and urine than older children and adults. For pregnant women, the two most common ways they are exposed to CMV is through contact with saliva and urine of children with CMV infection and sexual activity.

If you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy, here are a few steps you can take to avoid exposure to CMV:

  • When you kiss a young child, try to avoid contact with saliva. For example, you might kiss on the forehead or cheek rather than the lips.
  • Try not to put things in your mouth that have just been in a child’s mouth. For example:
    • Food
    • Cups
    • Forks or spoons
    • Pacifiers
  • Wash your hands after touching a child’s saliva or urine, especially after
    • Wiping a child’s nose or mouth
    • Changing diapers
  • If you do not have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Women can also reduce their risk of sexual exposures to CMV by avoiding or limiting the number of new sex partners during pregnancy.

More Information on CMV and Pregnant Women

Listeriosis and Pregnancy

  • 35-37 weeks pregnant? Ask your health care provider about getting a group B strep test.
  • Pregnant or planning a pregnancy? The best way to protect your unborn child from cytomegalovirus (CMV) is to protect yourself — especially by washing your hands.
  • Pregnant women are about 10 times more likely than the general population to get a serious infection called listeriosis, but you can take steps to protect yourself as well as your unborn baby or newborn.

Listeriosis is a rare but serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria called Listeria. Listeriosis mostly affects pregnant women, newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. Pregnant women are about 10 times more likely than the general population to get listeriosis. About 1 in 6 of the patients who are diagnosed with listeriosis are pregnant women.

Infected pregnant women may experience fever and other nonspecific symptoms, such as fatigue and aches (see “What are the symptoms of listeriosis?”). The disease can also be very serious for unborn babies or newborns. Listeriosis during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection in newborns.

In general, you can protect yourself from listeriosis by avoiding:

  • hot dogs and delicatessen meats unless they have been heated or reheated until steaming hot,
  • raw (unpasteurized) milk,
  • soft cheeses unless they are made from pasteurized milk,
    • Be aware that Mexican-style cheeses made from pasteurized milk, such as queso fresco, likely contaminated during cheese-making, have caused Listeria infections.
  • raw or undercooked fish or seafood, such as sushi or sashimi,
  • refrigerated pates and meat spreads, and
  • refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it has been heated until steaming hot.

Pregnant women and others who are especially susceptible to the disease should take extra precautions not to get fluid from delicatessen meat or hot dog packages on other foods or food preparation surfaces. Additionally, pregnant women should thoroughly wash their hands after handling delicatessen meats and hot dogs. Learn about additional ways to reduce your risk for listeriosis.

Photo: A pregnant woman eating.

Pregnant women are about 10 times more likely than the general population to get listeriosis.

If you are pregnant and develop fever and other nonspecific symptoms, such as fatigue and aches, talk to your healthcare provider within 24 hours. If you are infected, your health care provider can give you antibiotics that can protect your unborn baby or newborn. If a person has eaten food contaminated with Listeria and does not have any symptoms, most experts believe that no tests or treatment are needed, even for persons at higher risk for listeriosis.

More Information on Listeriosis and Foods to Avoid during Pregnancy

Zika and Pregnancy

CDC has issued a travel alert (Level 2-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Venezuela.

This alert follows reports in Brazil of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. However, additional studies are needed to further characterize this relationship. More studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

Until more is known, and out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant:

  • Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
  • Women trying to become pregnant who are thinking about becoming pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip

For more information, visit our Zika and Pregnancy webpage.

How do I protect myself from mosquito bites?

  1. Wear insect repellent: Yes! It is safe. When used as directed, insect repellent is the BEST way to protect yourself from mosquito bites—even children and pregnant women should protect themselves. Higher percentages of active ingredient provide longer lasting protection.
    1. DEET: Products containing DEET include Cutter, OFF!, Skintastic.
    2. Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin): Products containing picaridin include Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan outside the United States).
    3. Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD: Repel  contains OLE.
    4. IR3535: Products containing IR3535 include Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart.

Need more information?

  1. Cover up: When weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  2. Keep mosquitoes outside: Use air conditioning or make sure that you repair and use window/door screens.

Tips on preventing mosquito bites when traveling

Mosquito bites are bothersome enough, but when you consider risks such as chikungunya, dengue, and Zika viruses, it's important that you choose products that work well and that you feel comfortable regularly using.

  1. Protect yourself when traveling: Learn about country-specific travel advice, health risks, and how to stay safe by visiting CDC Travelers' Health website.
  2. Wear an insect repellent registered by the Environmental Protection Agency: Use insect repellent or wear protective clothing wherever mosquitoes are found. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide long-lasting protection. Learn more about how you can avoid bug bites.
  3. Keep mosquitoes outside. Use air conditioning or make sure that there are window/door screens where you stay. If you are not able to protect yourself from mosquitoes inside your home or hotel, sleep under a mosquito bed net.