Updated: Feb 2, 2020
What is Herpes
Herpes is referred to as the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two strands of HSV - HSV-1 and HSV-2.
HSV-1 is most commonly thought of as "cold sores" while HSV-2 is most commonly thought of as genital herpes. Truth be told though, both strands can infect either area of your body. You can become infected with genital HSV-1 or oral HSV-2.
HSV is spread through skin-to-skin contact making it easy to spread from one part of your body to another. This also makes it easy to pass along to someone else. Although it is an STI/STD, it is not only contractible through sex. An innocent kiss from mom to her baby can lead to a baby contracting HSV which can be fatal to newborns.
This is why knowing your status is so important. Women aren't regularly screened during their pregnancy for HSV because it's so tricky and common (about 1 in 8 people aged 14-49 in the U.S. has genital herpes and about 1 in 2 people ages 14-49 in the U.S. are infected with HSV-1 (Statistics).
For more information about STDs and their risks on your pregnancy, you can read this post for a breakdown of the most common STDs.
How Does It Effect Breastfeeding?
HSV is a tricky one, I'll tell ya. Although it doesn't have a direct impact on breastfeeding there are certain things to look out for. The biggest thing being outbreaks - when the virus becomes active - on or around your breasts.
Yes, you can become infected on other parts of your body.
That includes your breasts.
This happens when an outbreak is touched and then another area of the body is touched. For instance, if you are having an oral outbreak and touch it and then nurse your baby, you're risking causing an outbreak on the breasts, or passing it along to your baby.
If this happens to you be sure to follow these precautions:
Do not allow your baby to nurse from the infected breast.
Continue to pump from the infected breast. Pump & dump!
Cover the outbreak.
Keep the outbreak clean and dry.
Once the outbreak clears completely return to nursing as normal.
* The biggest thing to watch out for in this instance is making sure not to continually transmit the virus back and forth by limiting contact with the outbreak.
An HSV outbreak may be mistaken for some other skin condition so if you suspect an abnormal outbreak get it tested immediately.
What Does HSV Look Like?
Once again, this is a tricky one. HSV doesn't behave the same way in everyone. Many people - close to 90% don't know they have it. This is referred to as being asymptomatic, or not showing any signs or symptoms. Yet, for others, it may look like regular outbreaks once a month.
Typically, Genital HSV looks like a small cluster of blisters which are typically very sensitive to the touch. Outbreaks last anywhere from 2 days to 10 days, depending on the person.
Oral outbreaks, on the other hand, look more like one red bump typically seen somewhere along the outline of the mouth. These outbreaks can also last anywhere from 2 days to 7 days. The same rules apply for outbreaks that may occur on the breasts.
Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/statistics/
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) | Breastfeeding | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/maternal-or-infant-illnesses/herpes.html