Is Lyme disease dangerous during pregnancy?

pregnant woman sitting next to a pair of tiny shoes

People LOVE to pass around information calculated to terrify you as a pregnant or want-to-be pregnant woman. It’s almost like everything you do while pregnant could be construed as abuse of your unborn child (yoga, weight-lifting, coffee, cheese, wheat, relations with your partner, running, walking, breathing deep….). It can feel ridiculous after a while.

If you’ve been all the way through pregnancy and delivery, you know that much of the do this and don’t do that is unnecessary and over-bearing advice. You can still be physically active, and you can still eat. Life doesn’t end when you get pregnant!

But here’s the thing. SOME of the fear-mongering social media posts are true. As a pregnant woman, you do have to modify your lifestyle some to protect your baby. Unfortunately, when we are talking about pregnancy, ticks and lyme disease, this is an area where you should pay attention and make some changes.

What is lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an illness transmitted by ticks. Some (not not all) ticks are carry a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The ticks that carry this bacteria which causes lime disease are generally deer ticks (aka blacklegged ticks). Deer ticks are small, around the same size as an apple seed. They crawl, and they can bite in spring and summer.

The tick carrying the bacteria has to be on your body for multiple days (around 2) before infection occurs. (This is actually a great fact that should help quell the anxieties of a pregnant woman. Even if you do everything possible to avoid a tick bite and STILL get bit, so long as you are diligent about checking yourself for ticks and removing them promptly, you should have little chance of actually contracting lyme disease).

Lyme disease cannot be transmitted through touching, kissing, or breast milk.

Once the bacteria enters the body through the tick bite, a person may begin to experience the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • skin rash called erthema migrans (bullseye rash)

If untreated, a person’s joints can be impacted, along with the heart and nervous system.

What is the treatment for lyme disease?

Most cases of lyme disease are treated with antibiotics if the case is caught early. Typical antibiotics used are doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil. These are generally administered orally, though some cases receive them through an IV.

Pregnant woman who need antibiotics to treat lyme disease should take care to confirm that the antibiotics prescribed by the doctor (if the doctor is not experienced with treating expectant mothers) are safe for the baby.

Most people recover from the illness within a few weeks of beginning antibiotics. However, some individuals continue to struggle with fatigue and aches for months.

Will lyme disease harm my unborn child?

Honestly, its hard to say one way or another. It depends on who you talk to, and how interested they are in preventing you from freaking out.

Expectant mothers who contract lyme disease, but begin treatment quickly, may not see any impact of the disease upon their baby. Most woman who seek treatment right away see no impacts at all upon their babies.

Mothers who contract the disease but fail to get treatment may experience the following complications:

  • Placental Infection
  • Blood problems, such as hyperbilirubinemia
  • Rashes at birth
  • Urinary tract defects
  • Heart defects
  • Stillbirth

Avoiding lyme disease

Obviously, given the risks of lyme disease, expectation mothers should take steps to avoid getting bitten by ticks whenever possible. The best way to avoid getting bitten by ticks is to avoid areas where there are ticks.

The CDC has a great map which shows you the areas of the United States where ticks are the worst.

Is Lyme disease dangerous during pregnancy

Map aside, ticks generally thrive in wooded or grassy areas.

If you can’t avoid going into areas where ticks are, take precautions:

  • wear long pants and long sleeves
  • tuck your pants into your boots or even the tops of your socks
  • use an insect repellent effective for deer ticks on your clothing (this may take some creativity, as most pregnant woman are loath to use chemical repellents)–here’s the CDC’s list of natural repellents or you can try this recipe to make your own tick repellent

When you have finished with your outdoor endeavors, disrobe outside, in the mud room or laundry room and ferry the clothing straight to the washing machine. If you can, change your clothes and do a tick check before you get into your car.

I can’t convey to you the horror of finding a tick crawling on you or your child while strapped into a seat belt at highway speeds.

Once you get home, transfer the clothing into the washing machine without taking the clothes into your bedroom or other areas of the house. I’ve had ticks make it all the way to the bedroom in my camping gear (gross).

Take a shower or a bath.

A tick check is a thorough review of your body, including all the warm and cozy spots, such as armpits, creases of the skin, folds, belly button, and hairy areas. If you can’t reach it or see it, have someone assist you.

If you get bitten…

First of all, stay calm. If you catch the tick within a fairly short period of time after the bite, the likelihood of infection is drastically reduced.

Next, remove it right away with tweezers. You’ll find all kinds of instructions on the internet for tick removal. Avoid using lotions, mayo, or vaseline. Just pull the tick up and off your skin, and try not to crush or squeeze it.

Put the carcass in a bag or jar. If you are pregnant, you’ll want to take the tick to your doctor to see if a test can be done to confirm whether it was infected or not. If you are bitten but can’t preserve the tick, go see your doctor so that you can be tested and monitored for the infection, and so that treatment can be administered in a timely manner.

Do you have any experience with lyme disease? Let us know about it in the comments!

Before you go, check out this recent article from one of the many Mom Advice Line Contributors about the Importance of Play in Early Childhood

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