Childhood Illnesses & Pregnancy

Childhood Illnesses & Pregnancy

Many illnesses that we think of as childhood problems can also affect adults, including chickenpox, fifth disease, rubella, measles, and mumps. Once you have had these illnesses, you become immune and are unlikely to get them again. This immunity occurs because your body creates antibodies to protect against the disease. Others are immune because they have been vaccinated. Vaccines stimulate the body to produce antibodies, usually without causing illness.

Some people are not immune to childhood illnesses because they have neither had the disease nor received the vaccine. If you are pregnant and not immune to a childhood illness, you should avoid individuals who have or might have the illness. These illnesses can cause problems for you and your baby, including:

  • Birth defects
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Anemia

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, discuss with your healthcare provider which childhood illnesses and vaccines you have had. If you have not had the vaccines, ask your healthcare provider when you should get them.

Types of Childhood Illnesses

Chickenpox

Chickenpox is one of the most common childhood illnesses. If you have had chickenpox, you are immune. Symptoms of chickenpox begin with those of a common cold, followed by fever and fluid-filled itchy blisters on the skin. Adults who develop chickenpox can get sicker than children, and chickenpox can be more severe if you are pregnant.

Chickenpox is very contagious and spreads from person to person even before the rash appears. If you are pregnant and at risk, you should avoid individuals who have been exposed to the illness. Early in pregnancy, the chance of harm to your baby is low. If you get chickenpox a week or more before giving birth, the disease may be passed on to the baby. Your baby may be born with chickenpox, but in most cases, this is not serious and the baby will likely fully recover.

If you get chickenpox less than a week before labor, your baby is more likely to get a severe case of chickenpox. In this case, your baby will be treated when born.

Tell your healthcare provider if you think you have been exposed to chickenpox while pregnant. A routine blood test can confirm if you have the antibodies and are at risk.

If you are not immune, you should plan on being vaccinated at least one month prior to getting pregnant.

Fifth Disease

Fifth disease is a common mild illness that is easily spread to others. Symptoms of fifth disease include a rash that often starts as a bright red rash on the cheeks and then spreads to the arms, legs, and trunk of the body. In rare cases, individuals develop joint pain and swelling.

Half of all adults are immune to fifth disease because they have been exposed to it in the past. There is no vaccination for fifth disease. Adults with close contact with children are more likely to get fifth disease.

If you contract fifth disease while pregnant, you will most likely have only a mild illness, and your baby will likely not have any problems. There is a slight chance of anemia in babies from fifth disease, which can lead to miscarriage. Your healthcare provider may use ultrasound to monitor the fetus if you have fifth disease.

Measles, Mumps, and Rubella

Most individuals are immune to measles, mumps, and rubella because they have either been vaccinated or had the disease. Measles and mumps most often do not pose a risk for major problems during pregnancy. However, rubella can be harmful to pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Symptoms of rubella in a mother are often as mild as a rash. For the fetus, rubella can cause problems such as heart defects and deafness. It can also lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, and preterm birth.

A simple blood test can determine if you are immune to rubella. Women who are not immune to rubella should plan to get vaccinated before becoming pregnant. You should not receive the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine if you are pregnant.

What You Can Do

Most adults are immune to childhood illnesses because of past exposure or vaccinations. If you are not immune, take the following steps to protect yourself and your baby:

  • Get vaccinated before you become pregnant.
  • Avoid close contact with individuals who have or may have childhood illnesses.

Vaccines and Pregnancy

Many vaccines should not be given during pregnancy. If you are not immune, try to get vaccinated before becoming pregnant.

  • The vaccine for chickenpox (two doses) should be completed at least one month prior to becoming pregnant.
  • The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine should be completed at least one month prior to becoming pregnant.

Finally…

Most women are already immune to these diseases. Severe problems from childhood illnesses during pregnancy are rare. If you are not immune and have been exposed, talk with your healthcare provider right away. They may suggest treatment to help prevent problems.

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