Complications of chickenpox during pregnancy

Pregnant women who have chickenpox are at risk of complications. The type of complications depend on when the infection developed during pregnancy.

  • Pregnant women who have chickenpox during the first half of pregnancy may go into labor early (premature labor) or have a miscarriage.
  • Pregnant women who have chickenpox in the last part of pregnancy are more likely to develop varicella pneumonia. Even a healthy pregnant woman is at risk of dying if she develops varicella pneumonia.
  • Up to 2 out of 100 fetuses whose mothers have chickenpox during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy will also get chickenpox.1 This is called congenital varicella and can cause:
    • Birth defects. Birth defects can include one limb (usually a leg) smaller than the other, scars on the limbs, or eye problems such as cloudy lenses.
    • Low birth weight (weigh less than expected at birth).
    • Seizures. The baby can have seizures after birth.
    • Mental retardation.
    • Shingles. Fetuses who have chickenpox will not have chickenpox again. But they can still have shingles, even as babies or young children.
    • Death. Up to 7 out of 100 of the fetuses who get congenital varicella die.2
  • Babies born within a few days of their mothers' chickenpox infection have a risk of severe chickenpox infection. These babies are at greater risk of complications from chickenpox.

Citations

  1. Myers MG, et al. (2007). Varicella-zoster virus. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed., chap. 250, pp. 1366–1372. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  2. Gardella C, Brown ZA (2007). Managing varicella zoster infection in pregnancy. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 74(4): 290–296.

Last Updated: May 21, 2008

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