Pregnant person learning about CMV
Illustration by Joules Garcia

I’ll admit: Until recently, I’d never heard of cytomegalovirus, or CMV as it’s often referred to. It was never mentioned during prenatal appointments with my first child. And with my second child, who came to me through the generosity of surrogacy, I thought we went over every potential test and complication with the fertility specialist. But again, no one mentioned CMV.

In fact, according to the National CMV Foundation, 91 percent of women don’t know about CMV. CMV is a virus that can be passed from a pregnant person to their unborn child. And while CMV is typically harmless, it can be dangerous to an unborn child. CMV may lead to developmental issues for a fetus or, in some cases, pregnancy loss.

There are several things a pregnant person can do to reduce their risk for CMV. We are joining the conversation this month to help spread awareness about CMV.

It’s possible you may have already had CMV at some point in your life without even knowing it. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over half of adults have already had CMV by the time they turn 40.

But, in people who have never had a CMV infection, it’s estimated that 1 to 4 percent of those people may develop CMV during pregnancy. And for those people, it may pose a serious risk to the fetus.

Congenital CMV, or CMV that a baby is exposed to in the womb, can lead to other problems.

  • low birth weight
  • Vision loss.
  • Hearing loss
  • Small head size.
  • Intellectual disabilities.
  • Seizures.

CMV in pregnant women may cause loss of the baby.

About 1 out of every 200 babies are born with congenital CMV.

Awareness and prevention are the best ways to fight CMV in pregnancy. CMV can be spread through bodily fluids from a person with an active CMV infection.

After changing diapers or eating, you should wash your hands with soap. You should wash your hands for 15 to 20 seconds. You should not share eating utensils, drinking glasses, straws, or toothbrushes.

And while routine CMV screening is not currently recommended by the CDC, you can talk with your doctor about getting a screening test before becoming pregnant or during pregnancy.

Fetal CMV can be prevented with known treatments, but it is important to remember that an active infection does not mean the fetus will develop congenital CMV. Knowing you have an active infection could help you and your doctor come up with a plan.

Education is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of CMV during pregnancy. There are some resources that can help you learn more about CMV.

If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor. They can help you understand your risks and ways to prevent CMV.

Megan Severs, Editorial Director, Clinical & Parenthood