Protect Your Baby

Talking to your doctor about prenatal care, testing, and treatment is the best way to protect your baby from infection. Free testing is available and syphilis is treatable with simple antibiotics.

Frequently Asked Questions

It's serious: CS causes major health problems, even death CS is preventable: getting tested and treated can save your baby's life On the rise: CS cases in the U.S. are increasing. Protect your baby, get tested.

Congenital syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection to her baby during pregnancy or delivery. Most of the time, syphilis is passed from mom to baby during pregnancy, but it can happen during birth if the baby has direct contact with a syphilis sore.

An expecting mother can get syphilis by having unprotected sex or intimate contact with a person who is infected with syphilis.

If a baby has congenital syphilis and it is left untreated they can have life-long issues like seizures and developmental delays, or in some cases, it can be fatal. How congenital syphilis affects your baby’s health depends on how long you had syphilis and if or when you got treatment.

Up to 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis can die from the infection.

  • During pregnancy, complications can include miscarriage (losing the baby during pregnancy), stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, and death.
  • Once your baby is born, your baby could have deformed bones, severe anemia (low blood count which can lead to not enough oxygen being delivered to the rest of the body), enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), brain and nerve problems – like blindness or deafness, meningitis, and developmental delays.

The only way to know if you or your baby has syphilis is to get tested.

Your health care provider should test you for syphilis during your first and third trimester visits with a simple blood test. If they do not, advocate for your baby’s health by requesting the blood test. If you do not have health insurance or prenatal care, visit your local county health department to receive the free test.

It’s important to have your sexual partner(s) get tested for syphilis if you have it. Both you and your partner(s) must be treated or syphilis can continue to occur and impact your baby’s health.

Syphilis is curable for you and your baby, but it’s important to get treatment right away.

Free treatment is available and consists of antibiotics given by your doctor. The sooner you’re treated, the less likely you and will experience complications from the infection. Both you and your partner(s) need to be treated or reinfection can occur and affect your baby’s health.

Congenital syphilis is completely preventable. The only way to protect your baby is by protecting yourself while you are pregnant.

Ways to prevent infection:

  • Use condoms during sex.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.
  • Go to all of your prenatal checkups.
  • Have a conversation with your doctor if you think you have or may have been exposed to syphilis.
  • Get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms of syphilis.
  • Ask your partner to get tested for syphilis. Both you and your partner must be treated or infection can continue and affect your baby’s health.

Yes. Even after treatment, syphilis can reoccur. It is important to test throughout your pregnancy, even if you are not experiencing symptoms. Any sexual partner(s) should be tested and treated to avoid reinfection. If you or your sexual partner(s) are using injection drugs, infections can be transmitted through needle sharing.

Testing early and throughout pregnancy and getting treatment right away is critical in preventing congenital syphilis.

No. It is possible that a baby with congenital syphilis won’t have any symptoms at birth. But without treatment, the baby may develop serious problems. Usually, these health problems develop in the first few weeks after birth, but they can also happen years later.

Babies who do not get treatment for congenital syphilis and develop symptoms later on can die from the infection. They may also be developmentally delayed or have seizures.

Congenital syphilis cases have more than tripled in recent years, with more than 2,000 cases reported in 2020 alone. This is the highest number reported in one year since 1994.

It is important to make sure you get tested for syphilis during your pregnancy to ensure the health of you and your baby.

Yes. All pregnant women should be tested for syphilis at the first prenatal visit (the first time you see your doctor for health care during pregnancy). If you don’t get tested at your first visit, make sure to ask your doctor about getting tested during a future checkup.

Some women should be tested more than once during pregnancy. Talk with your doctor about your risk for syphilis to determine if you should be tested again at the beginning of the third trimester, and again when your baby is born.

You can have syphilis and not know it. Many people with syphilis do not have any symptoms. Also, syphilis symptoms may be very mild, or be similar to signs of other health problems. The only way to know for sure if you have syphilis is to get tested.

Yes. There is treatment for congenital syphilis. Babies who have congenital syphilis need to be treated right away or they can develop serious health problems.

Depending on the results of your baby’s medical evaluation, treatment may include antibiotics in a hospital for 10 days. In some cases, only one injection of antibiotic is needed. It’s very important that babies treated for congenital syphilis get follow-up care to make sure that the treatment was effective.

Your baby will not get CS if you do not have syphilis. There are two important things you can do to protect your baby from getting congenital syphilis and the health problems associated:

  • Get a syphilis test at your first prenatal visit.
  • Reduce your risk of getting syphilis before and during your pregnancy.
  • Talk with your doctor about your risk for syphilis. Have an open and honest conversation about your sexual history and STD testing. Your doctor can give you the best advice on any testing and treatment that you may need.

Not everyone with syphilis has symptoms

Talk to your doctor or nearest county health department about being tested, even if you do not have symptoms. Free testing is available and syphilis is treatable with simple antibiotics. 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis could die from the infection.