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

Rubella, also known as german measles, is rare in the UK nowadays, but if you develop the infection in pregnancy, there's a serious risk for your unborn baby.

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

This is called congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).

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

Rashes in pregnancy

If you're pregnant and develop a rash, or come into contact with anyone who has a rash, contact your GP or midwife immediately.

If necessary, they can arrange tests to check if you have rubella.

You should avoid any antenatal or maternity setting until you've been assessed, to avoid contact with other pregnant women. 

MMR vaccination

If you're thinking about having a baby, it's a good idea to check that you're fully protected against rubella.

If you're not sure whether you've had two doses of the MMR vaccine, ask your GP practice to check your vaccination history.

Ask for the vaccinations if your records show you haven't had both doses, or there is no record. 

Because MMR vaccination could cause a risk to your baby in pregnancy, you should avoid becoming pregnant for one month after having it. This means you'll need a reliable method of contraception.

For the same reason, you can't have the vaccination when you're pregnant.

If you're currently pregnant, and you're not sure whether you've had two doses of MMR, ask your GP practice to check your records.

If you haven't had two doses of the MMR vaccine, or there's no record available, you should ask for the vaccine when you go for your six-week postnatal check-up after your baby is born.

Screening for rubella in pregnancy

Screening for rubella in pregnancy is not being offered to women in England who start their antenatal care after April 1 2016.

This is because rubella is now very rare in the UK due to the high uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination.

The best way to protect you and your baby from rubella is to ensure you have had two MMR vaccinations. This will protect you and your baby in any future pregnancy and give you longer-term protection against measles, mumps and rubella.

If you started your antenatal care before April 1 2016

You will still be offered the blood test to check if you are immune to rubella and you will be given your results at your 16-week antenatal appointment.

If you are not immune, you will be offered an MMR vaccination after the birth of your baby and advised to see your GP for your second vaccination at your six-week postnatal check-up.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 19/02/2015

Next review due: 30/01/2018