What are the Effects of Malaria in Pregnancy?

N. Madison
N. Madison

There are many adverse effects of malaria in pregnancy. In general, pregnant woman are more likely to develop malaria than those who are not pregnant. When they do develop it, the condition also tends to be more severe and more likely to prove fatal. Unfortunately, malaria can cause symptoms in both a pregnant woman and her developing baby. It may also prove more difficult to treat during pregnancy since some of the drugs commonly used in malaria treatment may not be safe for use during pregnancy.

A mosquito spreading malaria.
A mosquito spreading malaria.

One of the main differences between malaria in a non-pregnant person and a pregnant person is the level of susceptibility. Malaria is more likely to develop in a pregnant woman than in a man or a woman who is not pregnant. This may be due, in part, to the natural suppression of the immune system during pregnancy. Some experts think this increased susceptibility may also occur because a woman loses some of her acquired immunity while she is expecting a child.

Pregnant women are vulnerable to malaria.
Pregnant women are vulnerable to malaria.

Some of the effects of malaria in pregnancy are noted by the mother. A woman who has malaria during pregnancy may develop anemia, fever, and even changes in her blood sugar levels. She may develop an infection that affects her genitals as well as fluid buildup in the lungs. In addition, women may develop a form of malaria that affects the brain and other serious complications of malaria in pregnancy.

A pregnant woman with malaria also is more likely to have a severe form of malaria than a non-pregnant woman. When pregnant women develop malaria, they are also more likely to die from it than other people. In addition, malaria in pregnancy may also present challenges when it comes to treatment. Many of the medications used in the treatment of malaria are not safe for use on pregnant women. Additionally, the natural changes that occur in a woman's body during pregnancy may make treatment of the disease and control of such things as temperature and fluids more difficult than usual.

The developing baby is also at risk from a case of malaria in pregnancy. A newborn baby may have a lower-than-normal birth weight or be born prematurely because of a malaria infection. Sometimes this disease may even cause growth retardation to develop while a baby is still growing in his mother’s uterus. Malaria in pregnancy can even lead to the death of the child before or after birth.

A woman who has malaria during pregnancy may develop fluid buildup in the lungs.
A woman who has malaria during pregnancy may develop fluid buildup in the lungs.
N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


@simrin-- That's true but it's not always possible for people to prevent malaria infections or plan pregnancies accordingly. Most people in malaria-ridden regions of the world don't have the means to do this anyway.

I think the effects of malaria in pregnancy depends on many factors that we can't completely cover here. But two that come to mind right away is the malaria species that is being dealt with and the immunity of the mother.

The article already talked about immunity a little bit. I think that women who have been infected with malaria previously might do better with a malaria infection during pregnancy because their immune system already recognizes the virus. So the side effects might not be as serious as it would be if it was the first infection.

Also, there are several different types of malaria species like plasmodium falciparum (in Africa), p.vivax (in Southeast Asia) and

p.falciparu (in East Asia). The intensity and symptoms of the disease vary depending on this as well.

So the effects of malaria disease during pregnancy is pretty specific to the person, the malaria species and their immunity condition.


@turquoise-- You did the right thing. I had to take anti-malarial medication due to a work trip to Southeast Asia where malaria is really widespread as well.

My doctor asked me if I was trying to conceive before we started my treatment. She also told me to be careful after the treatment gets over because malaria medications remain in the body for some time.

Malaria is a serious disease that requires attention and I think trying to prevent it or treat while getting pregnant at the same time is just too risky and complicated. It's best to avoid the situation if possible by planning.


My wife and I were planning a trip to Africa but canceled the trip for exactly this reason. We were trying to get pregnant at that time and then found out that the countries we will be visiting have high rates of malaria and that we would have to get vaccinated before we go.

Considering that my wife could get pregnant at any time and she could also be infected with malaria while we were there, we decided not to risk it. I know that lots of women with malaria in Africa have children but I'm guessing that they have much better immunity to that disease than a tourist would.

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