Protection From CMV: The Leading Infectious Cause of Birth Defects

This surprisingly common virus lives in about half of healthy adults in the U.S., but if you contract it while pregnant, it can pose some serious risks for your baby. Knowledge is power, so read on to learn the basics about CMV — and how to reduce the risks for yourself and your family.

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Whether you’re planning for your first child or your fourth, you’re probably focused on how to ensure the best and healthiest lives for yourself and your children together. So you might be surprised to learn about cytomegalovirus (CMV), a commonly spread virus that’s usually harmless in healthy adults and kids but can pose risks to newborns if the mom contracts CMV while pregnant.

In fact, while fewer than 9 percent of American women know about CMV, it’s actually the leading infectious cause of birth defects in the U.S. — so it’s something that every woman should know about while planning for a family. And despite the seriousness of CMV, you can help protect yourself with a few simple adjustments to your everyday hygiene routine. Read on to learn how to help protect yourself and your baby.


What Exactly Is CMV?

Cytomegalovirus, commonly referred to as CMV, is a virus that’s prevalent among adults in the U.S. The CDC reports that 50 to 80 percent of adults will contract it by age 40, while about 1 percent of children are born with congenital CMV. For the most part, CMV doesn’t have much effect on your life if you’re a healthy adult, but if you have a weakened immune system or are pregnant, it can.

Kids and adults with weakened immune systems might experience some cold or flu-like symptoms, like a sore throat, fatigue, and fever that can last a few weeks. However, if a mother contracts CMV for the first time while pregnant, there’s about a 30 to 40 percent chance that CMV will be passed onto her child in utero, giving the baby congenital CMV. One in five infants born with CMV experience developmental issues like hearing, vision, or mobility loss—overall, this impacts about 1 percent of live births in the U.S.

So, while complications affect 20 percent of babies born with CMV, it’s a condition that women should be aware of and take some extra precautions to try to avoid, especially while planning for a family — whether anticipating their first child or hoping to grow their family with another.


Protecting Yourself from CMV

One way to help keep yourself and your newborn healthy is to protect yourself from contracting and spreading CMV — and with a few simple adjustments to everyday habits, you can feel confident that you’re doing everything you can to keep your family healthy!

CMV is transmitted during the exchange of bodily fluids, so generally speaking, each of these measures is crafted to minimize your contact with potentially contaminated fluids. One of the most common places for CMV to spread is in childcare facilities and preschools, since there’s usually a large group of young children playing with toys, putting their hands in their mouths, and so on. Upping your hygiene routine when you’re pregnant is one of the best ways to help avoid a CMV infection!


Frequent and Thorough
Hand Washing.

We all know that we’re supposed to be washing our hands with soap and warm water multiple times a day, but when you’re housing a tiny human inside of you, this is extra important! Make sure to give your hands a good washing anytime you come into contact with potentially contaminated surfaces — CMV can live on your hands for up to 15 minutes, and even longer on surfaces like plastic and metal. A good rule of thumb is to wash your hands immediately once you get home.


Keep Your Home Clean.

Just in case someone else tracks in with CMV, ensuring that your high-traffic surfaces are disinfected on a regular basis is another way to prevent a CMV infection. Wiping down your counters and frequently touched spots like doorknobs and tables with cleaning solutions that kill viruses can help keep everyone safe. If you have young children at home, make sure their toys get a regular cleaning—and when you handle their toys, be sure to wash your hands before touching your face, just in case.


Don’t Share Food, Cups,
Straws, or Utensils!

Giving a loved one a bite of your granola bar or a sip from your cup might seem harmless, but when you’re pregnant, it’s always worth the extra caution to help prevent the spread of illnesses. Avoid contact with other people’s food and utensils — and resist the urge to feed other children from your own plate. For your baby’s sake, just grab a fresh plate and utensils, and enjoy knowing that you’re lowering your risk for CMV!


Avoid Other People’s Saliva, Period.

When you’re trying to get pregnant or are actively pregnant, avoid any chance of mixing fluids or saliva. This includes putting a child’s pacifier in your mouth, sharing a toothbrush, or even getting a kiss on the lips from your favorite little one!


Consult Your Doctor.

If you’re worried that you may have CMV or you’ve been feeling under the weather and are pregnant, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor for advice. Adults can be tested for CMV with a simple blood or urine test, and if you do test positive, your doctor can help you navigate the best course of action to help keep your baby healthy both in utero and after you give birth.

Understanding the risks of CMV and how to help prevent transmission can help you and your family stay safe and healthy! With some careful attention to detail and slight adjustments to your everyday actions, you can help reduce the risks of CMV. Learn more about CMV at

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