Pregnancy tip

Chickenpox can be especially serious for pregnant women because their hormone levels are altered and their immune system works differently

Chickenpox and pregnancy

Chickenpox in pregnancy is rare but it can be serious. This article outlines what symptoms to look for if you have had contact with someone who is infected with varicella.

Chickenpox is an infectious disease (called varicella zoster virus by health professionals) which is usually a mild illness in childhood.

Chickenpox is a more serious disease for adults than children, and can be especially serious for pregnant women because their hormone levels are altered and their immune system works differently.

If you had chickenpox as a child you are very unlikely to catch it again. This means that nine out of ten pregnant women in the UK are immune to chickenpox.

How do you catch chickenpox?

Chickenpox can be caught if you’ve had ‘significant contact’ (15 minutes or more in the same room) or face-to-face contact with an infected person. Coughs and sneezes can convey the infection. If you are not immune it may be a good idea to try and avoid people with chickenpox whilst you are pregnant.

Symptoms of chickenpox

It can take 10-21 days for the infection to show as symptoms. Common signs that you have chickenpox can include:

  • A general feeling of being unwell and fever.
  • Itchy, red, watery blisters which can appear anywhere over the body. 
  • If you've never had chickenpox, and suspect that you are infected or have been exposed, seek advice from your GP or midwife as soon as possible. They can make arrangements for appropriate tests or treatment. They may also suggest what you can do to avoid infecting other pregnant women, as otherwise you are likely to do so during antenatal care or classes.

If you do contract chickenpox during your pregnancy keep in mind that most pregnant women recover with no adverse effects for the baby.

Shingles during pregnancy

If you have had chickenpox the virus will remain in your body; but it will be inactive. If it does become active again at any given point then you have developed shingles.
Shingles is related to chickenpox but its symptoms are different. You may find that:

  • You experience pain in your arms and legs.
  • The nerves in the upper half of your face (including your eyes) are affected.
  • You feel exhausted.

If you get shingles while you are pregnant, it is usually mild and there is no risk for you or your baby.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support with all aspects of being pregnant, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.  We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

NHS choices has a useful Q&A about chickenpox and the antenatal phase in its infections whilst pregnant section. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists publishes its advisory leaflet 'Chickenpox when you are pregnant: What you need to know'.