If you get the chickenpox virus while pregnant, it can have serious implications for both your health, and that of your baby. While chickenpox, also known as varicella, is highly contagious, the good news is that there are ways to protect yourself. We talked to doctors to find out what a pregnant woman should do if she gets the virus and what's the best way to avoid contracting the potentially dangerous illness.
How Do Pregnant Women Catch Chickenpox?
Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, who is double-board-certified in ob-gyn and maternal fetal medicine, and the director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, explains to POPSUGAR that chickenpox is spread via airborne transmission, like when someone coughs or sneezes. You can also get it through "direct contact with blisters, saliva, or mucus of an infected person." She confirms that for pregnant women, chickenpox "can cause quite serious health risks. In the mother, varicella pneumonia, encephalitis (a brain infection), or hepatitis (a liver infection) are possible adverse outcomes."
What Should Pregnant Women Do If They're Exposed to Chickenpox?
This is all very scary, so if you have been exposed to chickenpox, Gaither urges pregnant women to seek medical attention right away. This is especially important if you catch it during early pregnancy, or before 20 weeks. "The developing fetus may risk developing congenital varicella syndrome. This is characterized by developmental defects involving the eyes, limbs, brain, skin, bladder, and GI tract." She adds, "If the woman develops chickenpox days before delivery, the newborn may have a condition known as neonatal varicella, which is life-threatening." Dr. Gaither notes that getting chickenpox while pregnant is a medical emergency. If detected right away, doctors can administer tests and medication that can reduce the severity of the disease for the mother and her baby.
How Can Pregnant Women Avoid Catching Chickenpox?
Ideally, you would want to have your immunity evaluated before getting pregnant. You are most likely immune to chickenpox if you've had it before. There is also a varicella vaccine. Christine Greves, M.D., an ob-gyn at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, tells POPSUGAR, "If you're currently pregnant or trying to conceive, you should not get the chickenpox vaccine. Unlike some vaccines that use a dead virus, like the flu vaccine, the chickenpox vaccine uses a live part of the virus. While unlikely, it could pose a potential risk to the mom and her fetus, so it's best to avoid this if you're pregnant or planning to conceive." Dr. Gaither recommends waiting three months after getting vaccinated to try to get pregnant. If you aren't sure of your immunity status, talk to your doctor at your first prenatal visit. They can test your immunity and advise you of next steps.