Chickenpox and pregnancy – what you need to know

You probably don’t need to worry about chickenpox (also called varicella) if you’ve had it before or if you’ve had the chickenpox vaccine. Both of these can help make you immune to chickenpox. Immune means being protected from an infection. If you’re immune to an infection, it means you can’t get it. About 9 out of 10 pregnant women (90 percent) are immune to chickenpox.

Usually people get chickenpox during childhood. It’s caused by a virus and you can get it by being in contact with someone else’s chickenpox rash or through the air when someone with chickenpox coughs or sneezes. An infected person can spread chickenpox starting 1 to 2 days before the rash appears and until the rash stops spreading and is covered by dry scabs. This is about 5 days after the rash starts.

Chickenpox usually isn’t dangerous in children. But if you get it during pregnancy, chickenpox can be harmful to your unborn baby or newborn. Chickenpox during pregnancy may cause some babies to get congenital varicella syndrome. This is a group of birth defects that can include problems with muscles and bones, blindness, seizures, learning problems, and microcephaly. Also, 1 to 2 out of 10 pregnant women (10-20%) who get chickenpox get a dangerous form of pneumonia (a kind of lung infection).

The good news is that if you haven’t had chickenpox already, the best way to protect yourself is to get the vaccine before getting pregnant. But if you’re already pregnant, you’ll need to wait until after you give birth to get the vaccine. So if you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant and you’re not sure if you’ve had chickenpox or the vaccine, talk to your health care provider. You can get a blood test to find out if you’re immune to chickenpox.

If you’re pregnant and find out that you’re not immune to chickenpox, try to avoid anyone who has chickenpox or shingles. If you come into contact with someone who has it, tell your health care provider right away. Treatment is available, but it’s important to get it within 4 days after you’ve come into contact with chickenpox to help prevent the infection or make it less serious.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

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