Chicken Pox in Babies and Toddlers, and During Pregnancy

It used to be that getting chicken pox was a normal yet very uncomfortable part of growing up, but luckily that no longer has to be the case. Early immunization can help prevent your baby or toddler contracting the virus. If your little one does get chicken pox, there are steps you can take to alleviate the symptoms. If you are pregnant and have not yet had chicken pox or the varicella vaccine, keep reading to learn more about your treatment options should you catch the virus so that you can help protect both yourself and your baby.

What Is Chicken Pox?

Chicken pox, also known as varicella, is a contagious infection caused by the varicella zoster virus. It usually doesn't cause serious illness in children, but in adults it can result in complications like pneumonia. The incubation period for chicken pox is between 14 and 16 days after exposure, so you may not know that you or your child has the virus until symptoms begin to appear.

There are two ways to become immune to the virus:

  1. By getting the chicken pox vaccine
  2. By having had chicken pox

If you've already had chicken pox, you are likely to be out of woods and will typically be immune to it for the rest of your life.

Chicken Pox Symptoms

Signs of chicken pox may include:

  • An itchy, blistery rash that can eventually cover most of the body. The rash consists of fluid-filled blisters called vesicles that normally crust over before healing. If the blisters are scratched, they may turn into tiny sores that may leave scars.
  • Mild fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Headache

When Is Chicken Pox Contagious?

Chicken pox is highly contagious, and the contagious period starts a few days before the rash appears and may last until 24 hours after all the blisters have dried up and crusted over. If your little one gets chicken pox, it's best to keep him home during this period to avoid spreading the infection to others.

It’s also a good idea to let your healthcare provider know right away and alert other parents whose children your child may have come in contact with during the contagious period.

As is true for other childhood illnesses, chicken pox will usually clear up after about a week or 10 days.

Chicken Pox Treatment

Check with your healthcare provider about the best treatment for your baby and for advice on medications and dosages. Call your healthcare provider right away if your child develops a skin infection, if he has trouble breathing, or if he has a temperature higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chicken pox is very itchy and uncomfortable, and can be tough for kids of any age. These are some ways to treat your child's discomfort and help promote healing during an outbreak:

  • Trim your little one's fingernails and encourage him not to scratch himself by having him wear mittens, especially at bedtime.
  • Keep your baby cool, as heat and sweat will make him want to scratch the rash even more. Consider placing cool, moistened washcloths over the worst affected areas.
  • Give your baby daily baths, especially oatmeal bath treatments (available at most pharmacies). This also helps prevent a secondary bacterial infection. Pat your baby dry, as rubbing can further irritate the rash.
  • Use an anti-itch cream.
  • Antihistamines can also help ease the discomfort.
  • Acetaminophen can help reduce fever, if present. (Do not give your baby or child aspirin, which can be harmful to children.)

Preventing Chicken Pox in Toddlers, Kids, and Adults

Avoid contact with anyone who may be infected with chicken pox and/or shingles, which is another infection that's caused by the chicken pox virus. The virus can be spread by touching an infected person's rash or even through the air when that person coughs or sneezes. Most children with a sibling who has chicken pox will also eventually get the infection if they haven't already been vaccinated. Early toddlerhood is the first opportunity to get your child vaccinated, usually after your baby turns 12 months old.

If you (or your partner) have never had chicken pox or the vaccine, you could be at high risk to contract the disease, especially if you work in healthcare or child care, serve in the military, or travel frequently. You, too, should consider getting the vaccinations, which are administered four to eight weeks apart. If you aren't sure you've had chicken pox, a simple blood test through your provider can determine whether you're immune or not.

Chicken Pox in Infants

Chicken pox is usually a mild disease, but it can be serious in babies under 12 months, especially if they were born prematurely or have a compromised immune system.

If you, as the mom, have had chicken pox during your life, your baby will be immune to the virus for the first few months after she’s born.

If your infant is less than a year old and does contract chicken pox, consult your healthcare provider right away.

Chicken Pox During Pregnancy

If you haven't had the virus yet and you haven't been vaccinated, you may be at risk of contracting chicken pox during pregnancy and passing it on to your baby.

If you contract chicken pox in the first 28 weeks of your pregnancy, there is a small chance of your baby getting congenital varicella syndrome. In this case, your baby may be born with scarring or with a low birth weight, or have other serious complications.

If you contract the virus between five days before birth and two days after birth, your newborn can contract neonatal varicella. The symptoms of this condition include a severe rash, and it needs to be treated immediately.

If you haven't had chicken pox yet, the best way to guard yourself and your baby against the infection is to get vaccinated before trying to get pregnant. Or, if you're due to give birth soon, your provider may advise you to get your vaccination after your baby is born, before the two of you leave the hospital.

If you see signs of chicken pox during your pregnancy, contact your provider immediately so that the appropriate steps can be taken to protect you and your baby. This may include an antiviral prescription for you. Your provider will know what to do to get ahead of the virus to help ensure your newborn will grow and develop without setbacks.

Chicken Pox Vaccine: The Best Safeguard

To guard your toddler against chicken pox, follow the vaccination schedule your healthcare provider recommends. The first dose is typically administered between 12 and 15 months with a booster shot between the ages of 4 and 6. Check out our article for advice on how to help your child deal with getting a shot.

In rare instances, the chicken pox vaccine can cause side effects like redness or discomfort around the injection site. These typically disappear in a matter of days. Talk to your provider to find out when your baby’s immunizations will be scheduled and mention if you have any concerns about the vaccine, or if your baby has had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past. Vaccinations are the most effective safeguard against childhood diseases.

The good news is that the chicken pox vaccine has made this virus preventable. But in the rare case your child does get the virus, it's good to know how to make your child comfortable and to treat those symptoms to the best of your abilities. If any complications arise, or if you have any questions or concerns, contact your provider for guidance. It won't be long until your baby is back to being the picture of health.

Learn more about the most common baby rashes, and find out what you can do to treat them.


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