Chickenpox During Pregnancy

Chickenpox is a contagious disease which is medically known as varicella. It can spread from one person to another by touching or by coming in contact with the sneezing or coughing of an infected person. Chickenpox and pregnancy can occur simultaneously and in some cases, this disease becomes a threat to the unborn baby. You will remain safe if you have been vaccinated against chickenpox or have dealt with it in the past.

How Do I Know If I Get Chickenpox During Pregnancy?

The main symptom is chickenpox rash which typically appears on the face and upper body in the beginning but spreads all over the body later on, causing up to 500 blisters that itch a lot. People vaccinated against chickenpox have a mild rash which resembles to mosquito bites. Chickenpox can take up to 10 days to clear up. Pneumonia, worsening of asthma, infected skin lesions, headache, diarrhea or vomiting caused by dehydration, troublesome rash, intense itching and high fever are some of the other symptoms of chickenpox.

Consult a physician immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • An intense rash
  • A rash that bleeds
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Vaginal bleeding

If you have remained closed to a person with chickenpox, inform your doctor about it at once. The doctor will do a physical exam to see if you have chickenpox or not.

Is My Baby at Risk If I Get Chickenpox During Pregnancy?

1. During the First or Second Trimester

Getting chickenpox and pregnancy during the first or second trimester can pose some risk to your baby as it can contract congenital varicella syndrome (CVS) but its probability is very low. However, if you get infected with this disease in between the 13th and 20th week of pregnancy, the chances of CVS becomes quite high. CVS can cause a number of birth defects which include vision and neurologic problems, a very small head, incomplete limbs and skin scarring. Babies with CVS don’t grow properly in utero and usually suffer from mental and physical disabilities.  

2. Early in the Third Trimester

Getting chickenpox early in the third trimester is not going to affect your baby too much. The reason is that the body starts developing antibodies against the virus within five days of you getting infected. These antibodies are going to be passed on to your baby through the placenta. Since the baby’s own immune system is not mature enough to fight the virus itself, these antibodies are going to provide him the protection that he needs from this dangerous virus.

3. Five to Twenty One Days Before Your Baby Is Born

If you get chickenpox and pregnancy five to twenty one days before the due date, there is a chance that the baby might get infected with chickenpox. However, there is no need to worry since the antibodies that you would pass to the baby are going to make sure that the chickenpox isn’t serious and does no harm to the baby. Babies who have been exposed to chickenpox inside the womb don’t show any signs of the disease at birth but might develop shingles at a very young age, which isn’t that serious.

4. Between Five Days Before Birth and Two Days After Delivery

If you develop chickenpox anytime in between 5 days before childbirth and 2 days after delivery, it can cause serious problems for your baby. The reason is that at this stage, the baby would get exposed to the virus but won’t receive the antibodies from you for his protection due to the lack of time. In such cases, the baby has a 30 percent chance of developing neonatal varicella which can be fatal if not treated immediately.

How to Treat Chickenpox During Pregnancy

Treating chickenpox in pregnancyis not that simple, however, there are some treatment options that you can try. For instance, calamine lotion can be used for reducing itchiness while Paracetamol can be taken if you have a fever or are experiencing any pain. The doctor might prescribe a VZIG (Varicella Zoster Immune Globulin) injection which can help in clearing the infection early. However, this injection only works if it is taken within 10 days of being exposed to the virus. Aciclovir, an anti-viral medicine, is also suggested for treating chickenpox during pregnancy. 

If you have come down with chickenpox and pregnancy a few days before your baby is born, the doctor is going to give the baby a shot of VZIG to decrease the severity of chickenpox if he still develops one. Aciclovir can also be used as a treatment option for babies who develop chickenpox right after they are born. It is safe for mothers with chickenpox to breastfeed their newborns.

How to Prevent Chickenpox During Pregnancy

1. Know If You Are Protected

Every pregnant woman must consult a doctor to find out if they have adequate protection against chickenpox. Any of these are proof that the pregnant woman is protected against this disease:

  • Documents of vaccination
  • Blood test confirming varicella immunity
  • Verification of a history of herpes zoster or chickenpox by a doctor

2. Receive the Chickenpox Vaccine

Women who have never gotten chickenpox in the past must get themselves vaccinated at least a month before they get pregnant. Getting this vaccine during pregnancy or within a month of pregnancy is not recommended. Pregnant women not protected against this disease can get vaccinated immediately after delivering the baby. They can be given the initial dose of the vaccine before they leave the hospital and the second one on their post-partum visit 8 weeks later. The chickenpox vaccine is perfectly safe for nursing mothers too.

3. Get Your Close Contacts Vaccinated

Pregnant women who haven’t been vaccinated should live among people who are either protected against chickenpox or have been vaccinated against it

4. Stay Away from People with Chickenpox

Pregnant women must avoid any contact with people who are down with chickenpox or even breakthrough chickenpox, a mild type of chickenpox. 

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