Get vaccinated for chickenpox before pregnancy

June 23, 2021

Do you know if you’re immune to chickenpox?

Chickenpox is an infection that spreads easily. It can cause itchy skin, rash and fever. If you’re immune to chickenpox, it means you are protected against getting this infection. Most pregnant people are immune to chickenpox. But if you’re not immune and you get chickenpox during pregnancy, it can cause problems for you and your baby.

You can become immune to chickenpox by having the infection in the past or by getting the varicella vaccine to protect against chickenpox. A vaccine helps protect you from getting certain diseases. The varicella vaccine prevents more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox each year.

If you don’t know if you’re immune, talk to your health care provider before you get pregnant. Getting the varicella vaccine before you get pregnant is the best way to protect you and your baby from chickenpox. But it’s not safe to get the varicella vaccine during pregnancy.

What problems can chickenpox cause for you and your baby?

Having chickenpox during pregnancy can increase your risk of getting pneumonia and can even be life-threatening. Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be very serious.

Chickenpox during pregnancy can cause these problems for your baby:

If you get chickenpox during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, your baby may have an increased risk for congenital varicella syndrome. This is a rare group of serious birth defects that can cause:

  • Scars on the skin
  • Problems with the arms, legs, brain and eyes
  • Gastrointestinal complications
  • Low birthweight. This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

If you get chickenpox between 2 weeks before birth to 2 weeks after birth, you can pass the infection to your baby. If this happens, the infection in your baby usually is mild.

If you get chickenpox immediately before or right after birth (5 days before birth to 2 days after birth), your baby may have an increased risk for a serious infection called neonatal varicella. This infection can be life-threatening, but treatment is helping more babies survive.

If you have a preterm birth, your newborn may be at higher risk of complications from chickenpox. Preterm birth is birth that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

How do you know if you’re immune to chickenpox?

Talk to your provider if you’re planning a pregnancy and you’re not sure if you've had the varicella vaccine or chickenpox before. Your provider can do a blood test to find out if you’re immune.

If you’re planning a pregnancy and the blood test shows you’re not immune, get vaccinated. You get the vaccine in two doses. It’s best to wait 3 months after the second dose before getting pregnant.

If you’re already pregnant and you’re not immune, how can you protect yourself from chickenpox?

If you’re already pregnant and you’re not immune, don’t get the vaccine until after you give birth. In the meantime, stay away from anyone who has chickenpox. Chickenpox spreads 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 about 2 days before their rash appears.

It’s also important to stay away from anyone who has shingles. Shingles is an infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles causes a painful rash on one side of the face or body. People with shingles can spread chickenpox to other people.

Tell your provider right away if you’re pregnant and you come into contact with someone who has chickenpox. Your provider can treat you with medicine that has chickenpox antibodies. Antibodies help the body fight infections. It’s important to get treatment within 10 days after you’ve come into contact with chickenpox to help prevent the infection or make it less serious. And tell your provider if you come in contact with a person who has shingles. Your provider can decide if you need treatment to help prevent you from getting infected.

Learn more about chickenpox.