Can rubella (German measles) harm my baby during pregnancy?

Rubella, or German measles, is most dangerous to your baby if you catch it during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Rubella can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects in unborn babies, such as:

This is called congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) and is transmitted to the baby through the placenta.

If a pregnant woman does become infected with rubella during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, there is no treatment that is known to be effective in preventing CRS.

However, rubella is now a rare condition, because people were either vaccinated at school or as part of the childhood MMR vaccine.

Rubella is transmitted by coughs and sneezes, and is very contagious. Being immune to rubella ensures that your baby is very unlikely to be affected if you come into contact with the infection. You will have a blood test to check your rubella immunity as part of your antenatal tests. This will usually be at your first check-up.

Rubella immunity test

If you are planning to get pregnant, you should have the rubella immunity test first.

If you are not immune, you cannot have the jab while pregnant because the vaccination contains a live virus, which could cause rubella infection in the baby. For the same reason, you should not become pregnant for at least a month after having your rubella jab.

Symptoms of rubella are mild and include fever, headache, joint pains and sore throat. A distinctive red-pink rash usually appears shortly after the glands swell.

Risks during pregnancy

The risks from getting rubella during the different stages of pregnancy are outlined below:

  • Before 8-10 weeks, there is a 90% risk of CRS, and a high likelihood of multiple defects. The earlier in your pregnancy that you catch rubella, the greater the risk to the baby. After week 10, the risk to the baby is reduced, but they may develop problems with their sight or hearing that may not become apparent until they are older.
  • Between 11-16 weeks, there is still a 10-20% risk to the baby. They may develop problems with their sight or hearing that may not become apparent until they are older.
  • Between 16-20 weeks, there is only a low chance of deafness occurring.

If you are pregnant and you know that you are not immune to rubella, you must keep away from anyone who has rubella, particularly during your first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

If you come into contact with someone with rubella, you should see your GP immediately. They will be able to diagnose rubella and may offer you a test to see if your baby has been affected.

If your baby has been affected by rubella, you will be encouraged to have some counselling and talk to your consultant, GP, nurse or midwife. There are a number of options available to parents who are expecting a baby affected by CRS.

N.B. If you are having chemotherapy, if your immune system is low for another reason, or if you are allergic to the medicines neomycin or polymyxin, you should not have the rubella vaccination. See your GP for advice.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 19/02/2015

Next review due: 18/02/2017