If you are pregnant, and have had chickenpox before, or have had a chickenpox vaccination done, then there is no risk to you or your baby. This is because you have been immunized against the virus which causes chickenpox. If you have never had chickenpox before, you could be exposed to the virus and certain steps must be taken. If you are unsure of whether or not you are immune to the virus, you can contact your doctor and have a blood test done to see if you’re immune.
If you have never had chickenpox before and come in contact with the virus
In these cases, you must immediately inform your doctor or midwife. You might be given an injection called Human Varicella-Zoster Immunoglobulin (VZIG) which will boost your immune system against the chicken-pox causing virus. Although this might not prevent an infection occurring, it would significantly reduce the severity of an infection.
When can I get the VZIG injection?
The VZIG injection is given up to 10 days after you initially came in contact with the chickenpox virus. Usually, none of the characteristic chickenpox symptoms would have appeared by this time. A second VZIG dose can also be given if you are exposed to chickenpox a second time, and it has been 3 weeks or longer since your last injection. If you are already infected and you develop blisters, however, the VZIG injection is much less effective and is therefore not given at this stage.
How will chickenpox affect my health during pregnancy?
If you are pregnant and have developed chickenpox, you must immediately see a doctor. As a pregnant adult, you are at a higher risk of getting complications than in other groups. You might be prescribed an antiviral drug called aciclovir following diagnosis, although this drug will not normally be used if you are in early pregnancy. The antiviral treatment will reduce symptoms and reduces the chances of complications occurring. You might also be referred to the hospital if you begin getting signs of complications. Additionally, there are various methods you can try to reduce symptoms, although you should discuss these with your doctor before trying.
How will chickenpox affect my baby’s health during pregnancy and after birth?
There is no increased risk of a miscarriage if you get chickenpox while pregnant. Additionally, the chance of the baby getting chickenpox while in the uterus, or after birth, is very small but can occur. Getting chickenpox during pregnancy is also associated with a higher risk of birth defects. The risk depends on the stage of pregnancy you were infected with the virus.
The first 28 weeks of pregnancy
The baby is at a higher risk of birth defects, such as damage to the arms, legs, brain, eyes, bladder or bowel (this occurs in 1-2% of cases).
Between 28 and 36 weeks of pregnancy
The virus will typically stay in the baby’s body but remains inactive and will therefore not do any harm. However, the baby is at a higher risk of developing shingles during the first years of life.
After 36 weeks and until birth
There is a possibility that the baby will be infected with the virus while in the uterus, and might be born with chickenpox. Note that it is usually best to wait until after the infection has subsided before giving birth, as this could lead to the newborn baby developing immunity to the virus. However, the timing of giving birth should be discussed with your doctor.
The baby will be monitored for up to a month since the date you first got infected with the virus. The baby might be born with chickenpox, or might develop chickenpox after birth, and will therefore need to be closely monitored during this period of time. When the baby is 7 months, he/she will have a blood test done to see if they have developed immunity to the virus.
Can I breastfeed if I have or have had chickenpox?
If a mother develops chickenpox during pregnancy, studies suggest that breastfeeding is safe for both the newborn baby and the mother