If the baby’s mother has malaria, can it affect the child?
If the mother is pregnant when she gets malaria, particularly if it is her first pregnancy and particularly if she has never had malaria before, the effects on both the mother and child can be very serious. For the mother, this is because her immune system changes when she gets pregnant. This leaves her more vulnerable to the effects of malaria, including anaemia.
The most dangerous type of malaria, P. falciparum, also seems very able to infect cells in the placenta, leading to a higher intensity infection, and also reducing oxygen delivery to the baby. This, combined with the mother’s illness and anaemia, can lead to low birth weight, anaemia and other complications in the child once it is born. Malaria can also pass through the placenta, or be transferred to the baby through blood during childbirth, resulting in “congenital malaria”; that is, malaria which has been passed from mother to infant. Since newborns have inexperienced immune systems, malaria in the first days or weeks of life, and especially if the child is already low birth weight, can be very dangerous.
As such, a lot of effort has gone to finding ways to prevent malaria in pregnancy and to treat women who do get malaria while pregnant to prevent negative effects both to her and her unborn child. These efforts mainly involve the distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated bednets, and in some places also include the administration of intermittent preventive therapy, where women are given periodic doses of anti-malarials during pregnancy to protect against the disease.