What to Know About 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 of the hands and soles of the feet but is usually not serious. HFMD is less common in adults because they often have antibodies from previous viral infections.

Is HFMD Dangerous During Pregnancy?

Your growing baby will likely be fine if you become infected with hand, foot, and mouth disease while pregnant. 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 congenital disorders.

If you contract the infection close to delivery, however, there is a risk that you may pass it to your baby. These cases are often mild.

What to Look Out for With HFMD During Pregnancy

While hand, foot, and mouth disease isn't likely to cause major health concerns for a fetus, there are some complications to look out for if you are infected with HFMD while pregnant.


Blisters in the mouth can make eating and drinking downright painful, which can increase your risk of dehydration. Dehydration is serious for anyone but especially for pregnant people. (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

It is important to stay hydrated by sipping on liquids. If the mouth sores are particularly bad, try hydrating with frozen popsicles made of 100% juice—the juice will hydrate while the cold can help alleviate pain.

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 1 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 Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

If you are routinely around young children, you may come in contact with HFMD during your pregnancy. Luckily, preventing HFMD is relatively simple and requires only a few simple measures.

Frequently wash and sanitize hands

The way to prevent catching hand, foot, and mouth disease, 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, palms, and wrists. After drying your hands, follow up with a squirt of alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill any remaining pathogens on your skin.

Always wash your hands:

  • 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

Disinfect high-touch surfaces

To prevent infections like HFMDm, make sure to keep your home germ-free by wiping down high-traffic surface areas where bacteria and viruses can hang out. If someone in your home is sick, 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 and tablets
  • Toys (especially shared toys)
  • 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 symptoms including fever, flu-like symptoms, skin rashes or blisters, or sores in your mouth, call your doctor immediately. Your doctor may ask to see you in person to diagnose the infection and give you a plan for how to treat it.

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

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