Health conditions

Syphilis in pregnancy

  • Syphilis can be very dangerous during pregnancy. If a pregnant person has syphilis it can be transmitted to the baby.
  • Syphilis in babies can cause permanent damage to the brain and other vital organs, causing blindness, deafness and lifelong disability. It may also result in miscarriage or stillbirth.
  • Early detection and treatment in mothers and their sexual partners will reduce the risk to their unborn baby.

Syphilis is a highly infectious sexually transmissible infection (STI) that can easily spread through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex. Syphilis can affect many parts of the body, including genitals. rectum, mouth, skin,  eyes, brain and heart..

It is recommended to test for syphilis if you are planning a pregnancy. Once you are pregnant, your GP, midwife or obstetrician should offer you a syphilis blood test at your first pregnancy or antenatal care check-up and at 28 and 36 weeks. It is good for you to ask the GP, midwife or obstetrician to do these tests.

What is congenital syphilis?

When babies are born with syphilis it is called congenital syphilis.

Congenital syphilis occurs when a pregnant person transmits the infection to the unborn baby. This can occur if syphilis in pregnancy has not been treated, or if treatment was given too late in the pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Pregnant people and their sexual partners

The first symptoms of syphilis don't last long and some people don't have any symptoms, so it is possible for a person to have syphilis without knowing and pass it onto others.

Primary stage

Syphilis can cause people to get an ulcer or sore around their genitals or mouth, 3–12 weeks after infection. The sore can be any size or shape, is usually painless and doesn’t bleed. Even without treatment, the sore heals and disappears after a few weeks, but you are still infected. The syphilis bacteria are in the bloodstream and spread around the body.

Secondary stage

If left untreated, 2 to 6 months after getting infected, people can develop a rash (on the face, palms and soles of the feet), swollen glands, warts or lumps (around genitals, anus, mouth), and hair loss lasting weeks to months.

Latent and tertiary stages

Without treatment, the latent stage is where there are no physical symptoms but you are still able to transmit syphilis to your unborn baby.

If someone has untreated syphilis for longer than 2 years it can progress to the tertiary stage which affects the brain, heart, large blood vessels, the spinal cord, skin and bones. This can lead to permanent physical and intellectual disability, and death.


Congenital syphilis can damage the baby’s vital organs including the liver, brain, spinal cord and skin (rashes, warts or lumps). It can also affect bone and muscle development.

How can you get tested for syphilis?

To find out if you have syphilis you need to get a blood test.

If you think you have syphilis

See your doctor as soon as possible if you think you may have syphilis.

Getting tested and treated for syphilis early can help prevent:

  • miscarriage
  • stillbirth
  • your baby to be born with serious life-long health issues.

Before you are pregnant

If you are planning to get pregnant, have a syphilis blood test before you get pregnant and talk to your sexual partner/s so they can get tested too.

Whilst you are pregnant

Getting tested and treated for syphilis early can help prevent:

  • miscarriage
  • stillbirth
  • your baby to be born with serious life-long health issues.

It is important to have a syphilis blood test at the first pregnancy or antenatal care check-up, and repeat tests at your 28-week and 36-week appointments each time you are pregnant. Your GP, midwife or obstetrician should offer these tests to all pregnant women in WA. If they do not or if they forget, please ask for a syphilis test and show them this website if required.

How is syphilis treated?

Syphilis in pregnancy is effectively treated with penicillin. The earlier the infection is found, the easier it is to treat and to protect the baby from congenital syphilis.

If treatment is given within 30 days of giving birth, the baby will also need to get treatment for syphilis after their birth.

How can syphilis be prevented?

It’s important to protect yourself, baby and sexual partners from getting syphilis by:

  • wearing a condom for all kinds of sex, including oral, vaginal and anal sex
  • having regular STI tests
  • attending antenatal care and having the necessary blood tests during pregnancy.

Translated information about syphilis

Where to get help

Last reviewed: 08-12-2023

Sexual Health and Blood-borne Virus Program

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.