Your guide to shingles in pregnancy

shingles in pregnancy

by Lorna White |
Published on

When you're pregnant, it's normal to feel anxiety in pregnancy, especially when it comes to yours and your baby's health, and one illness you may be worried about is shingles in pregnancy.

We spoke to midwife Louise Broadbridge aka @thehonestmidwife on Instagram to answer all of your questions about shingles in pregnancy, the risks, treatments and things you need to be aware of.

Shingles in pregnancy

Catching any kind of illness when pregnant can be worrying and you may well have heard that chickenpox is dangerous for expectant mothers and newborn babies.

Shingles is a reactivated version of the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, but it doesn’t pose a risk to your unborn baby. It is only caught by people who have already had chickenpox in the past.

It is sometimes referred to as herpes zoster but it is a completely different condition to genital herpes. The similarity in name is because the conditions are caused by viruses from the Herpesviridae family of viruses.

What happens if I get shingles when pregnant?

If you develop shingles, you are likely to notice a rash of small blisters, which are painful and uncomfortable. These blisters will often appear on the chest or stomach, although you may find them anywhere on your body.

Before the rash comes out properly, you may well notice a tingling or burning feeling on your skin and feel unwell, run down or generally out of sorts. The tingling will usually happen in the same area of your body as the blisters appear. It is also common to experience a headache in the early stages of shingles.

If you’re pregnant, your skin often feels more sensitive than usual, especially on your bump, so getting shingles is certainly no fun. Don’t worry though as it isn’t anything to panic about but you should call your midwife or GP straight away for advice.

Your doctor may give you an antiviral medicine, which can speed up your recovery. This should be taken within three days of your symptoms starting so don’t delay speaking to a medical professional if you think you might have shingles.

It is very important that you stay away from other pregnant women when you have shingles so please don’t attend any antenatal appointments or classes in person or meet up with any friends or family who may be expecting a baby. Although shingles won’t pose a risk to your baby, it is possible for someone who doesn’t have immunity to the virus to catch chickenpox from you.

Chickenpox can cause complications for pregnant women and their unborn babies so it is best to stay at home if you have shingles to avoid passing on the virus.

New shingles blisters may appear for around a week and will remain contagious until they have dried out and scabbed over.

How can I avoid catching shingles while pregnant?

There is nothing you can do to prevent shingles from developing and if you catch it, it is not the result of anything you have done wrong. You cannot catch shingles from another person with either chickenpox or shingles.

Shingles develops from the varicella-zoster virus, which lies dormant in your body after you have had chickenpox. There are lots of theories about the different things which can trigger shingles but researchers believe it can be caused by a lowered immune system, stress and some underlying medical conditions.

This means the best way to protect yourself against shingles is to do everything you can to stay calm, relaxed and healthy.

The only way you can be sure you won’t get shingles is if you have never had chickenpox but this has risks of its own, especially in pregnancy. If you haven’t had chickenpox before, take care to avoid contact with anyone you suspect might have chickenpox or shingles and seek advice from your GP straight away if you find out you have been around someone who develops either.

There is a shingles vaccine which is sometimes given to the elderly but this is not recommended for people who are pregnant.

How can I treat shingles if I am pregnant?

Your GP might prescribe some antiviral medicine but they are likely to weigh up the benefits of this against any potential risks before making this decision. Antiviral medicine will not cure shingles but it can help it to clear up more quickly.

There are also a number of things you can do to make your symptoms easier to cope with. You cantake pain killers in pregnancysuch as paracetamol if you are experiencing any pain from your rash but avoid ibuprofen as this is not recommended during pregnancy.

Make sure you keep your rash dry and clean. This will make it less likely to become infected and don’t share your towels, sponges, facecloths or clothes with anyone else while you have shingles.

Avoid wearing tight clothing - loose styles which don’t stick to the rash will feel more comfortable and help the blisters to heal more quickly. Try to resist the urge to scratch your rash - you can use calamine lotion to soothe your skin if you feel itchy.

If your skin is weeping or oozing, dampen a clean cloth with cold water and use it as a cold compress to soothe your blisters.

Can I catch shingles more than once?

Most people will not catch shingles more than once but it is possible to develop it a number of times, especially if you have a health condition which has an impact on your immune system or you are undergoing medical treatment which affects your immunity like chemotherapy.

Meet the expert

Louise Broadbridge, Midwife @thehonestmidwife and founder of Lets Talk Birth and Baby and is one of the expert speakers at The Baby Show at London’s Olympia in October

The Baby Show, the UK’s leading pregnancy and parenting event is returning to Olympia on 21-22 October 2022 celebrating its 21st year and will play host to the UK’s leading baby and parenting experts and guest speakers.

You can hear more from Louise aka @thehonestmidwife at taking place 21-23 October 2022 at London Olympia. The UK's Leading Baby & Parenting Shows in London ExCel, London Olympia, and the Birmingham NEC. Everything for Bump, Baby & You Under One Roof.

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