If you are currently pregnant or have recently given birth, there are some important things to know about cold sores, herpes, and newborn babies. This is especially true if you have the herpes virus.

While both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be treated with relative ease in adults, that is not the case with a newborn baby. In fact, HSV-2 (most notably) can prove to be fatal in many cases.

Medically known as neonatal herpes, babies can be born with the virus upon passing through the vaginal canal. With an immune system yet to be developed, this virus can prove to be dire for a newborn baby.

10 Things to Know About How HSV-1 & HSV-2 Affect Newborn Babies

The information below is very important for mothers, as well as those who are expecting. While our goal is not to create fear, understanding the facts is imperative. This information could save the life of your child.

Let’s explore the subject more deeply:

1) Babies Can be Born with HSV-2 (Neonatal Herpes)

Transmitted during pregnancy and vaginal birth, a newborn baby can contract herpes. Most notably HSV-2, more commonly known as neonatal herpes.

This transmission is usually the result of the mother contracting HSV for the first time. Typically within the final six weeks of pregnancy.

Noted below is a guide designed to help you to better understand the transmission risks:

  • If you contract genital herpes for the first time before you get pregnant, the transmission risk is very low. This is due to antibodies that will likely shield the unborn baby from the virus.
  • Contracting herpes during the first three months of your pregnancy is more problematic. The overall chance of miscarriage rises as well as an increased chance of HSV transmission.
  • If you contract genital herpes for the first time during your last six weeks of pregnancy, transmission odds increase much more. The likelihood of your baby contracting HSV through the birth canal is quite significant compared to other stages.

As you can tell, so much of transmission depends on when you contract HSV-2. This is why it is paramount, especially if you are pregnant, to consult your doctor as soon as blisters appear. The sooner your physician can diagnose your condition the less likely your baby will be to fall victim to HSV during labor.

2) How to Visually Detect Cold Sores in Babies

While babies develop cold sore blisters just like adults, that is truly where most of the similarities end. This is not only true from a visual standpoint but a behavioral one as well.

Infected newborns often display a mild fever during the onset accompanied by the occurrence of cold sores. These symptoms usually occur within two weeks of transmission. If not treated at this stage, other symptoms will likely take hold in a rather extreme fashion.

It is not uncommon for newborns to become very sick. Unlike adults, the immune system of an infant is not equipped to handle HSV. This can result in a series of visible health concerns.

Listed below are several potential symptoms to be mindful of if your baby has contracted HSV.

  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy (Floppy)
  • No energy (Listless)
  • Refusal to eat
  • Loud crying (Louder than is common from a newborn)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blue skin/tongue
  • Body rash (Not cold sores)

While every baby is different, the symptoms noted above can be quite severe and pose a serious threat if not treated. If your newborn is exhibiting any of these issues and a cold sore is visible, emergency care is needed ASAP.

Lack of immune strength is the biggest difference maker when it comes to HSV. This is what can make this virus so critical and potentially dire in babies compared to grown and healthy adults. The immune system of a typical newborn does not fully develop for six weeks.

3) Cold Sores Can be Dangerous for Babies

Although it is certainly an unfortunate and heartbreaking truth, cold sores can be deadly for newborn babies. This is due to a lack of proper immune health at such an early stage of life.

As it relates directly to danger and what makes the difference, so much depends on the organs. If your baby has HSV and only the eyes, mouth, and lips are affected, the odds are good for a full recovery. While death is still a possibility, it is quite minimal. Those odds will continue to decrease with the proper treatment.

However, if your child’s organs have been compromised by the virus, the odds of death do increase. Statistically speaking, nearly one-third of babies with neonatal herpes (HSV-2) will succumb to the virus. Even quality treatment is potentially no match for HSV if organs have been affected.

To summarize…

  • While dangerous, cold sores that only impact facial areas can be treated. Although recovery can be lengthy, the odds of the virus proving fatal are marginal.
  • HSV can prove to be fatal in newborns if organs have been compromised. Nearly one-third of babies born with neonatal herpes die.

Cold sore protection for babies

4) You Can Transmit Cold Sores to Your Baby Through Kissing

Although physical affection from mother to newborn is quite possibly the definition of unconditional love, it can also transmit HSV. Just the most basic acts can, unfortunately, be problematic. Kissing is the most serious.

Roughly 70% of the general population has HSV-1, and a bulk of the transmission took place during childhood. Given this percentage, many adults are more inclined to pass on HSV-1 to their children. Many times in a rather unsuspecting and obviously unintentional fashion.

While HSV remains dormant in the body the vast majority of the time, the virus always has the potential to be transmitted. The simple act of a loving mother kissing her baby can transfer the virus. The exchange of saliva is the most common way HSV-1 is spread.

As a mother, especially if you are known carrier of HSV-1, it is important to be responsible. While all affection should not be excluded, kisses to the mouth should be met with caution. If you are in the midst of an active cold sore outbreak mouth kisses should be eliminated entirely.

To recap…

  • Almost 70% of the general population has HSV-1. This means that more and more mothers have the virus while raising newborns and young children.
  • Avoid physical affection that involves mouth-to-mouth kissing. This is critically important if you are a known carrier of HSV-1.
  • Never kiss your child, even on the cheek, if you are in the midst of a cold sore outbreak. Just the slightest scrape on the cheek can result in potential HSV-1 transmission.
  • HSV can have a potentially deadly impact on newborns and infants. Exposing your baby to HSV can result in serious consequences.

5) Your Baby Can Potentially Get HSV-1 Through Breastfeeding

Although HSV-1 typically occurs on the lips and mouth area, it can develop in several areas of the body. Any locations where virus-riddled saliva enters the body can result in a cold sore. This includes the breasts and nipples.

While HSV cannot be transmitted through breast milk, your baby can become infected by a blister near the nipple. If your infant licks a cold sore HSV-1 can be transferred.

In terms of precautions, it is vital to keep clean clothes or a clean towel between your baby and any affected areas. The objective is to make sure the only portion of your breast that your baby touches is a safe area.

Additionally, if you have a visible cold sore next to your nipple, you are advised not to nurse. Mother’s are encouraged to pump their milk until the problem area has cleared or use the other breast. Pumped milk from the infected breast must never touch the blister. If that does occur it should be thrown out ASAP.

To recap…

  • Cold sores can develop on the breast and nipple area. Never allow your baby to come in contact with known blisters during breastfeeding.
  • Cover the infected areas with fresh clothing or a towel.
  • If the cold sore is simply too close to the nipple, mother’s are encouraged to pump the milk. However, no milk should come in contact with the cold sore. If that does happen the milk must be discarded.

6) What to Do if Your Baby Has Been Exposed to a Cold Sore

If your baby has been exposed to a cold sore so many of your decisions depend on the interaction. If someone you know has HSV and you witnessed exposure take place, then you should contact your newborn’s doctor.

Did a friend or family member kiss your baby on the lips? If you bare witness to the exposure then you should act ASAP.

On the flipside is the lack of visual proof. If you are not sure if exposure occurred, it is vital to monitor the situation. Many times being proactive can simply involve keeping an eye on things.

The notable symptoms of HSV have been documented. You are encouraged to take those to heart and monitor any noticeable changes in your baby. Especially if an actual blister begins to form.

There is nothing wrong with being hypersensitive when it comes to your newborn. HSV transmission can be dangerous at this stage of life.

To summarize…

  • If you witnessed the exposure first-hand you are encouraged to contact your newborn’s doctor ASAP. Although well-meaning, it would not be uncommon for an HSV carrier to show problematic affection during a moment of forgetfulness. The act of transmission could come from the mother herself.
  • If exposure was not confirmed but more of a concern, you are encouraged to monitor your baby. As soon as any symptoms appear, you are advised to seek medical attention ASAP.

newborn babies and cold sores

7) How to Protect Your Newborn from Getting HSV

If you have a history of HSV-2 or are simply showing signs of genital herpes, you need to contact your doctor. Medication can be given during the final month of pregnancy to prevent an outbreak in the vaginal canal.

Additionally, delivery by C-section could be a potential option. This is true if HSV-2 has not entered a dormant stage. This type of birth will prevent your baby from being born with the virus.

Once your baby is born, there are several steps you should take to avoid transmission. This not only applies to the mother but everyone involved with the newborn.

  • Do not kiss a baby if you are symptomatic or have an existing cold sore.
  • Always wash your hands before coming in contact with a baby. This is especially true if you have an active cold sore.
  • Wash hands before breastfeeding and cover up any and all cold sores on the breast. While this topic was noted earlier, these safeguards can serve as prevention methods.

As it relates to prevention, many of the same measures apply across the board. This is true for both newborns and adults. If you carry HSV, it is important to be mindful of your situation. As long as you act responsibly, any baby you come in contact with should be fine.

In terms of affection, it is critical to note that babies are visual beings as well as physical. If you are concerned about showing physical affection, you should introduce visuals. By simply engaging the newborn with various pictures and zany antics you can avoid physical affection. Even something as silly as a hand puppet will likely elicit a laugh and a smile from your baby.

8) How to Treat Cold Sores in a Newborn

Courtesy of various creams and patches, cold sores in adults can be treated in a matter of days. Unfortunately, that is far from the case in newborn babies. In fact, hospitalization is often required to treat both HSV-1 and 2.

Once a diagnosis is made, most newborns receive intravenous antiviral medicine for three weeks. This timeframe can be extended depending on the severity of the newborn’s condition.

While HSV-1 transmission is managed in a slightly different fashion, many complications can arise. Sadly, these complications can take the life of a newborn. Especially if organ failure begins to occur.

A story made the rounds in the media regarding a cold sore death. Featured in various media journals as well as People Magazine, a newborn from Iowa succumb to HSV-1.

It is believed that the baby contracted HSV-1 from a kiss that was not associated with either parent. Someone who visited the baby was likely the source of transmission.

You can read more about this case below:


While it is vital to understand treatment angles, prevention is paramount. You never want to reach a point where you have to treat your baby. Especially when the potential loss of life is a very harsh and real possibility.

To summarize…

  • Babies born with HSV-2 are typically hospitalized for roughly one month. Various antiviral medications are administered to negate the impact the virus has on the body.
  • While cold sores brought on by HSV-1 can be potentially easier to treat, it is a case by case basis. As noted in the article linked above, HSV-1 can also prove fatal. Unfortunately, the treatment stage is the fearful stage. So many problems can arise.
  • Although the medical world is more advanced than it has ever been, the best form of treatment is prevention. The ultimate goal is never to have to arrive at your local hospital with your baby showing visible symptoms.

9) Educating Younger Children About the Herpes Virus

While it is important for mother’s and father’s to understand the severity of HSV in newborns, this education also applies to young siblings.

For example, if you have a 5 or 6-year-old son or daughter with HSV they need to learn responsibility around the newborn. It is not difficult to envision a young boy kissing his baby sister and transmitting HSV-1. While well-meaning, this would likely be the result of lack of HSV education.

If you have other children, especially children with HSV-1, you are encouraged to educate them about transmission. If your family is expected to increase in a matter of weeks, now is the time to teach your son or daughter about HSV.

The last thing any family would want is for their son or daughter to transmit a potentially fatal virus to their baby brother or sister.

To recap…

  • If you are expecting, yet already have other children, teach them about HSV and virus transmission. This is critically important if you have very young sons and daughters.
  • While adults can make the mistake of transferring HSV to a baby, children are more likely to make that mistake. You can do a great service to your newborn by educating your older children.

Is getting a cold sore a danger to a newborn baby?

10) Critical Newborn Care Instructions

While caring for a newborn who has been infected with either type of HSV can be demanding it can be achieved. Although care and prevention essentially hold hands at times, they share a worthy relationship.

The first measure of care is to build a quality relationship with your newborn’s doctor. You will need to depend heavily on them during the first few weeks. This relationship will become even more critical if your baby contracts HSV. Whether your baby has been hospitalized or sent home, it is critical that you heed all instructions.

As noted earlier, care can be hands on, but it can also be visual. This is certainly the case if you suspect your newborn has been exposed to HSV. By simply monitoring your baby you can gain so much in the end. Understanding the symptoms of HSV can ultimately lead to a positive recovery.

Finally, one of the most positive ways to care for your newborn is to have a support system. HSV transmission affects the newborn but also everyone around the baby. The parents, close family, extended family, friends, etc. While watching your baby suffer is heartbreaking, doing so alone can make matters worse.

If you are a mother who has a child with HSV is it important to reach out for help. Seeking the support of family, friends, and perhaps your church is wise.

While the steps to caring for your newborn are rather straightforward, never forget to care for yourself. Maintaining a positive attitude is critical for everyone involved. This level of positivity can also help in your newborn’s recovery.

To recap…

  • Develop a good relationship with your newborn’s doctor. Your baby will need to visit a physician during the first 3-4 weeks of life.
  • Visual care is just as important as physical care. The symptoms of HSV are quite scary. Monitor your baby closely if you feel they have been infected with the virus.
  • Reach out for support for both yourself and your baby. While having a newborn with HSV is difficult, matters can be made worse if you are alone. Asking for assistance, love, prayers, etc. are all positive.

Knowledge is Power: Cold Sores, Genital Herpes, and Babies

While this material is quite extensive, we hope that you have been informed in a positive way. Although cold sores are often dismissed when adults are infected, babies can die from HSV.

If you currently have genital herpes and are pregnant we strongly urge you to contact your physician. You can potentially save your babies life by informing your doctor of your situation. Risking a vaginal birth while having HSV-2 is indeed the ultimate risk.

As a mother, you should never be afraid, but you should always be alert. This is critically true if your baby is being handled by someone with a cold sore. Responsibility from everyone involved can go a long way and potentially prevent a lot of grief.