Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease During Pregnancy

If you're exposed to hand, foot and mouth disease while you're pregnant, are you in danger?

pregnant woman at doctor
Photo: S_L/Shutterstock

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is an infection caused by the coxsackievirus. HFMD is most common among young children and typically causes a fever, painful sores in the mouth, and a red, blisterlike rash on the palms and soles but is usually not serious. HFMD is less common among adults because they often have antibodies from previous viral infections.

Is HFMD Dangerous for Pregnancy?

Your growing baby will likely be fine if you become infected with HFMD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no clear evidence that HFMD causes adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as miscarriage or birth defects. However, people contracting the infection close to delivery may pass it to their babies.

Here are a few symptoms and complications to look out for if you are infected with HFMD while pregnant.

Dehydration

Blisters in the mouth can make drinking anything feel downright painful. Still, the risk of dehydration is serious for anyone but especially for pregnant people. It is important to stay hydrated by sipping on liquids. If the mouth sores are particularly bad, try hydrating with frozen popsicles that can help alleviate pain.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that pregnant people drink between 8 and 12 glasses of water every day to prevent dehydration. Dehydration during pregnancy can lead to serious complications including:

  • Premature labor
  • Low amniotic fluid
  • Neural tube defects
  • Low breastmilk production

Viral meningitis and encephalitis

Although very rare, some people with HFMD can develop viral meningitis, which can cause a stiff neck, headache, and high fever. The CDC notes that babies under one month are particularly vulnerable as they can develop severe symptoms since they do not have robust immune systems.

Encephalitis is another concern because it can cause brain swelling and paralysis. In one study, researchers found that encephalitis derived from HFMD led to significant damage to the thalamus and medulla oblongata, which are the parts of the brain located where the brain and spine connect, creating a highway for the nervous system to travel from the brain to various parts of the body. They also control the heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure.

Preventing HFMD

If you are around young children, you may come in contact with HFMD. Luckily, it is relatively simple to prevent catching HFMD and requires only a few simple measures.

Frequently wash and sanitize hands

The way to prevent infection of HFMD, and most other bugs, is to maintain a solid hand washing routine that includes using warm water and soap for 20 seconds. Make sure to wash your fingers, fingernails, palm, and wrists. After drying your hands, follow up with a squirt of alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill any pathogens on your skin. You should wash your hands during these times:

  • Before your prepare or eat food
  • After using the bathroom or changing a diaper
  • After coming in contact with a sick person
  • After coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, or touching bodily fluids

Keep a clean home

Make sure to keep your home disinfected by wiping down high-traffic surface areas where germs can hang out. If someone in your home is ill, don't let used tissues, dishes, or things they've used like screens or remote controls go without a good wipe down. A few items to make sure you disinfect include:

  • Doorknobs and handles on cabinets, fridge, and faucets
  • Screens including cellphones
  • Toys especially shared toys
  • Launder bedding including pillowcases
  • Pacifiers, teething toys, and sippy cups

What To Do If You Are Exposed HFMD

If you have been in contact with a person who has HMFD and you develop any symptoms including fever, flu-like symptoms, skin rashes or blisters, or sores in your mouth then call your doctor immediately. Your doctor may ask to see you in person to diagnose HFMD and give you a plan for how to treat your symptoms.

According to the CDC, many people will recover from HFMD in about a week to 10 days and don't usually require medical treatment beyond home remedies to alleviate symptoms.

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