Malaria and Pregnancy: Risks and Prevention Strategies for Expectant Mothers

By Dr. Rashmi Varshney Gupta in Obstetrics And Gynaecology

Apr 25 , 2023 | 3 min read


Malaria is a life-threatening disease that is caused by parasites transmitted to humans through the bite of infected female mosquitoes. Malaria during pregnancy is a significant public health problem, particularly in areas with high transmission rates. In this blog, let's discuss the risks of malaria for pregnant women and their unborn children and the best practices for preventing and treating malaria during pregnancy.

Risks of Malaria during Pregnancy

Malaria during pregnancy poses significant risks to both the mother and the unborn child. Pregnant women are more susceptible to malaria due to changes in their immune system, which can make them more vulnerable to infection.

Here are some of the risks of malaria during pregnancy:

  • Maternal Anemia: Malaria can cause maternal anaemia in which there is a low red blood cell count in the mother's bloodstream. Anaemia can lead to fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath. Severe anaemia can increase the risk of haemorrhage during childbirth.

  • Low birth weight: Malaria during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight, which is a major risk factor for infant mortality. Low birth weight infants are more likely to experience respiratory distress syndrome, infection, and hypoglycemia.

  • Preterm delivery: Malaria during pregnancy can increase the risk of preterm delivery, which is the delivery before 37 weeks of gestation. Preterm babies are at increased risk of respiratory distress syndrome, feeding difficulties, and infections.

  • Stillbirth and Neonatal Death: Malaria during pregnancy can lead to stillbirth, which is the delivery of a baby without signs of life after 28 weeks of gestation. It can also increase the risk of neonatal death, which is the death of a baby within the first 28 days of life.

Preventing Malaria During Pregnancy

Preventing malaria during pregnancy is essential for the mother and the unborn child. Here are some best practices for preventing malaria during pregnancy:

  • Use Insecticide-treated bed nets: Pregnant women should sleep under an insecticide-treated bed net every night to reduce their risk of being bitten by mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Bed nets can be obtained through local health clinics and non-governmental organisations or purchased at local stores.

  • Wear long-sleeved clothing and pants: Pregnant women should wear long-sleeved clothing and pants to reduce the amount of exposed skin that mosquitoes can bite.

  • Use insect repellent: Pregnant women can use insect repellent on their skin and clothing to further reduce their risk of being bitten by mosquitoes. Insect repellent should contain DEET, Picaridin, or IR3535 and should be applied according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  • Avoid outdoor activities during peak mosquito hours: Pregnant women should avoid outdoor activities during peak mosquito hours, which are typically from dusk to dawn.

  • Keep the surrounding environment clean: Pregnant women should ensure their environment is clean by removing standing water around their homes, as it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

By following these preventive measures, pregnant women can significantly reduce their risk of contracting malaria and protect the health of their unborn children.

Treating Malaria during Pregnancy

Prompt and effective treatment of malaria during pregnancy is crucial to prevent complications and improve outcomes for both the mother and the unborn child. Here are some best practices for treating malaria during pregnancy:

  • Seek medical attention immediately: Pregnant women experiencing symptoms of malaria, such as fever, chills, and body aches, should seek medical attention immediately.

  • Antimalarial medication: The choice of antimalarial medication and the duration of treatment depends on the stage of pregnancy, the severity of the infection, and the type of malaria parasite present. Some antimalarial medications, such as primaquine and tetracycline, are contraindicated during pregnancy, so it's essential to consult a specialist before taking any medication.

If you are pregnant and have symptoms of malaria or live in an area with a high risk of malaria transmission, consult your healthcare provider to develop a prevention and treatment plan tailored to your needs.