Ask a midwife: What pregnant women should know about CMV

pregnant woman belly in a red dress with trees and sunset in background


In this article:

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus that can affect pregnant women, but symptoms are rare.

  • It is spread through the transmission of body fluids.

  • A Swedish midwife notes that women in risk groups can take precautionary measures to prevent catching the virus.

When you’re pregnant, there’s a lot to learn and every day can bring a bit of new information. One of the things you may have heard about is congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV), but if you’re not sure what it is, you’re not alone. In observance of National CMV Awareness Month, learn more about this condition in this Q&A with Desiree Connelly, a certified nurse midwife at Swedish Issaquah.

What is CMV?

It’s a really common virus that is transmitted by body fluids, such as blowing your nose or sharing food utensils. It’s rare to have any symptoms, so people don’t know if they have been exposed to it. Very rarely, people will get a mild fever, a runny nose or some body aches.

How common is CMV?

Fifty percent of women in pregnancy will test positive for CMV. The vast majority of them are testing positive for it because they’ve been exposed to it at some point earlier in their lives.

Are there risk factors for CMV?

The people at risk of getting CMV are those who are exposed to other people’s body fluids. The first thing that comes to mind is health care workers, because we are interacting with people and their blood and fluids. But the transmission and infection rates for health care workers are pretty low because we do a good job of hand washing and wearing protective gloves — we call those standard precautions. Because health care workers know about these kinds of safety measures, they are not getting CMV as much.

The next group that should be aware of preventive measures against CMV is people who work with children. If you are an elementary school teacher or someone who works in daycare, you may be at risk because with little kids you’re wiping their noses and changing their diapers and you may not take those extra measures. A pregnant woman who works with kids or in any setting where she comes into contact with another person’s bodily fluids needs to take measures to protect herself.

What are some of those protective measures?

Hand washing with soap and water, especially after contact with diapers or any kind of secretion. Wash well for 15 to 20 seconds, which most of us don’t do. If you’re a pregnant woman and just changed a diaper or helped a child blow her nose, you really need to do this, or perhaps ask your employer to provide you with a box of gloves to protect you even further. And avoid kissing little kids on the mouth or cheek; instead, kiss them on the head or give them a hug. Also, don’t share food, drink or utensils, and clean toys or countertops that come into contact with a kid’s mouth or saliva. If you’re picking up toys all day long in daycare, you have to be aware and careful. If you touch your hand to your face, you can get the virus.

How does CMV affect a pregnant woman?

The real risk is if you are exposed to it for the first time while pregnant — then, if the virus gets into your bloodstream and crosses the placenta and gets to the baby, it could cause problems and could become a high-risk pregnancy. But this is very rare. The good thing is that if you have been exposed to CMV already before getting pregnant, it actually has a protective effect.  Serious CMV is incredibly rare, but you can protect yourself against it if you are aware of your risk and take simple precautions. If you have any questions, talk with your health care provider.

Find a doctor

If you have questions about CMV and pregnancy, contact Pregnancy and Childbirth Services at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Additional resources 

If you’d like more provider-approved answers to your pregnancy-related questions, download Circle by Swedish, the free app full of resources for common pregnancy and parenting issues.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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About the Author

There's a reason why more babies are born at Swedish every year than any other health system in western Washington - bringing babies into this world is our mission. The Swedish Pregnancy & Childbirth Team is committed to giving you relevant and actionable insights on how to care for yourself and your child as you navigate the trimesters of your pregnancy.

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