Chickenpox in pregnancy

Chickenpox in pregnancy can cause serious complications

At a glance

  • It's possible you will develop anaemia during pregnancy
  • Caused by a lack of iron or B12 and folate
  • Taking supplements or adjusting your diet can help

Chicken pox is an infection that causes red and itchy spots. Most pregnant women are immune to the chicken pox infection, so it is rare to get chicken pox when you’re pregnant but it can happen.

Should I avoid people with chickenpox if I’m pregnant?

If you’ve had chickenpox before your body will have created the antibodies to the virus which prevents you from getting it again. In this case it’s fine for you to mix with people who have chickenpox.

However, if you’ve not had chickenpox before it’s important you don’t mix with people who have it due to it being highly infectious.

The virus spreads extremely easily through the air, so being in the same room as someone with chickenpox for as little as 15 minutes is enough for you to catch the virus.

It’s also possible to catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles which is a similar virus. If you haven’t had chickenpox you should also avoid people with shingles.

You can only get shingles if you’ve already had chickenpox. The virus stays dormant in your body and can become active again as shingles which will result in burning or tingling pain on the side of your body or face which will develop into a rash and eventually blisters which will fall off after 7 to 10 days.

If you do get shingles whilst pregnant there is no risk to you or your baby and the symptoms will usually be mild.

What happens if I get chickenpox in pregnancy?

If you catch chickenpox whilst pregnant don’t panic, it’s very likely you and your baby will both be fine. However the virus can cause more serious complications in pregnant women including pneumonia. 

If you know you have been in contact with someone with chicken pox and are unsure if you have had them then contact your midwife and doctor who can arrange for a blood test to check if you are immune to the chicken pox infection. Treatment may be considered in these cases but needs to be given as soon as possible following symptoms so it’s important to tell your doctor as soon as you think you have chickenpox so they can monitor you and your baby until it has cleared up.

It’s also important to tell your doctor immediately if you develop further symptoms including breathing problems, a severe or bleeding rash, drowsiness, vomiting or vaginal bleeding.

What is the treatment for chickenpox when pregnant?

Treatment for chickenpox when pregnant is similar to any other case of chickenpox. You can take paracetamol to alleviate any fever or pain associated with the spots and use calamine lotion to help reduce itchiness.

If you’re past 20 weeks your doctor may also prescribe acyclovir which will reduce symptoms but is only effective if taken within the first 24 hours of the spots developing.

Will Chickenpox harm my baby?

Having chickenpox in pregnancy can cause problems that can affect your baby depending how far into your pregnancy you are.

There is a small risk that your baby may develop foetal varicella syndrome (FVS) which can cause issues with your baby including damaged skin, eye problems and issues with their brain, bladder and limbs.

If you catch chickenpox between weeks 28 and 36 it’s possible your baby will develop shingles in the first few years of their life as the virus will stay in their body.

It’s also possible your baby will develop chickenpox if you have the virus around the time of birth or the baby is born within seven days of your rash first developing or up to seven days after giving birth.

At a glance

  • It's possible you will develop anaemia during pregnancy
  • Caused by a lack of iron or B12 and folate
  • Taking supplements or adjusting your diet can help

Pregnancy conditions