What you need to know about Rubella & Pregnancy
Published May 2021
What is Rubella?
Rubella is a viral infection, also known as German Measles. It causes a rough spotty rash and lasts up to a week when it usually starts to get better. Symptoms also include swollen glands in your neck, aching fingers, wrists or knees and a high temperature. The MMR vaccine can protect against rubella and is usually offered to all children in the UK at 13 months old, and again when they start school.
Whilst the infection may cause little or mild symptoms in most people, it can cause serious problems for unborn babies if their mothers are infected during their pregnancy.
What harm can rubella cause to my baby?
Rubella can severely affect your unborn baby’s sight, hearing, heart and brain. If you contract rubella in the first trimester of pregnancy, it is more likely to have a serious affect on the fetus than if you catch it later in your term. After 4 months of pregnancy, it is unlikely the virus will affect your baby.
In the early stages of pregnancy, if you develop a rash, you and your partner or family should discuss this with your doctor as soon as possible. You may be recommended to have a Rubella blood test to confirm a diagnosis.
It is better to request a blood test before you fall pregnant to ensure that you have antibodies that will ensure that you are immune to rubella.
How do I protect myself and my future family?
The easiest way to protect yourself from Rubella is to ensure that you are fully immunised against the virus before trying to conceive. Before you have the MMR vaccination, you will need to have a blood test to check whether you are already immune. Your doctor or nurse can arrange this and then if needed, organise your MMR vaccination.
If I had Rubella as a child, surely I must be immune?
You are only immune if a blood test confirms that you are. Rubella can be hard to recognise, especially if you showed no symptoms at the time so it is best to check. What you thought was Rubella, may have been another viral infection, such as Measles.
Can I just have a Rubella Vaccine?
Unfortunately, single Rubella vaccinations are no longer available as laboratories have for a long time now, been concentrating on producing the MMR vaccine, as it is now an internationally recognised vaccine of choice combining Measles, Mumps and Rubella.
I’ve heard MMR can cause Autism, is this true?
There is no plausible scientific evidence of any link between the MMR vaccine and autism. There are ongoing studies and an ever-increasing body of research globally that shows no evidence of a link.
What if I had the Rubella or MMR Vaccine previously, am I still immune?
Protection through immunisation seems to be long-term. Rubella-containing vaccine has been used for over 30 years and most people immunised in the early introduction of the vaccine are still protected. However, no two people are the same and no immunisation protects everybody. In one in fifty cases, the immunisation doesn’t work. This may be because the body does not produce enough protection or antibody or because the vaccine itself was stored or handled incorrectly. In most cases, a further vaccination will work.
I thought I was immune but a blood test has shown I’m not – why is this?
This is why having the blood test is important. The Rubella immunity test will quickly and easily identify women who are at risk of catching Rubella. It looks for antibodies in your blood to test your immune response. In most cases, the test is clear, but some women have low levels of antibody. In this case, it is important to receive the vaccine again.
Other reasons you may receive a positive result are:
Someone made a mistake when they reported any previous blood results.
You thought you’d had Rubella in the past but you hadn’t.
You thought you’d had the Rubella Vaccine but it was a vaccine for something else.
You did have the vaccine but you were one of the people for whom it didn’t work effectively.
For any reason your blood test shows you are not immune, you will need to have the MMR vaccine. You cannot be vaccinated when you are pregnant and will need to wait until you have had the baby.
My Rubella Test before my last pregnancy said I was immune – am I still protected?
You will almost certainly still be protected. The only way to be really certain is to ask your Doctor or Nurse to check your immunity again to be on the safe side.
Can I request the MMR Vaccine if I’m still breastfeeding?
The MMR Vaccine can be safely given to breastfeeding mothers without any risk to their nursing baby. There is no evidence of any of the MMR viruses being found in mothers milk and even if they were, your baby’s digestive system would kill them.
What should I do if I’m already pregnant but my friend has Rubella [or something similar]?
If you have any concerns at all, you need to see your doctor as soon as you can. Even if you have had the vaccine or previously been told you are immune to Rubella, it is important to have the blood tests to confirm and give you peace of mind. Try to avoid contact with your friend until you have seen your doctor as the infectious period lasts for about two weeks and starts five to seven days before the rash physically appears.
How soon after the Rubella Vaccination can I try to get pregnant?
Women are advised not to get pregnant for one month after having a Rubella immunisation.
If you have fallen pregnant, you should talk to your doctor. Studies of several hundred women who have continued their pregnancies after immunisation at this time have shown that none of the babies suffered from rubella damage. Your doctor will be able to give you information and help.
I’ve developed a rash during early pregnancy – what do I do?
If you are concerned for any reason, speak to your doctor as soon as you can. Your doctor can arrange for a blood test to diagnose the rash and confirm whether or not it is Rubella. You should still do this even if you and your doctor believe you are immune. Remember, you’re responsible for the wellbeing of two people now.
To check your immunity for Rubella before TTC, order your Home Test Kit here.