Can Rubella (German Measles) Harm My Baby During Pregnancy?






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1. What Is Rubella?

Rubella is also known as the German Measles or the “three day measles”. It is a generally mild disease that affects the skin and the lymph nodes. When children get rubella, it’s generally no big deal.

But, when pregnant women get rubella, it can be extremely dangerous. A woman get contracts rubella while pregnant can pass the disease along to the fetus. Birth defects known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome could develop from that.

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Birth defects of CRS include cataracts and other eye problems, hearing impairment, and heart disease. Miscarriage and stillbirth are also possible consequences for pregnant women.

2. Rubella Test

In order to see if a pregnant woman is at risk of developing rubella, doctors usually give a rubella antibody test in early pregnancy. The test is very easy and only involves taking a small amount of blood from the mother and screen that blood. It is a very quick and painless test and the doctors can usually have the results back fairly quickly.


The chances of a pregnant woman developing rubella in the United States is extremely low, but even so, all pregnant women should be screened to see whether or not she is immune to the rubella virus. The good news is that around 90 percent of the US population over the age of 5 is already immune to rubella, so there is really not much of a reason to worry.

3. What If You Are Not Immune

If the blood test results come back and you are not already immune to the virus, things can begin to get a little tricky. You can not have the rubella vaccine if you are already pregnant. You can however try to reduce your risk by avoiding anyone who has never had the disease or who has a rash or virus.


This can be difficult, however, since you don’t know who to avoid. Doctors say to avoid contact with other people if there is even a single known case of rubella in your community, and to make sure that your other kids have had all of their vaccinations. It’s just too dangerous not to.

4. If You Catch Rubella While Pregnant

Please keep in mind that contracting rubella in the United States today is extremely rare. The risks to an unborn baby are greatest at the beginning of pregnancy, and they decrease as time goes on.


The risk to your baby will depend on how far along you are when you contract the illness. If you are found to have rubella while pregnant, you will have to see a specialist who will advise you of the risks to your baby.


There is no known treatment for rubella, and if you get rubella during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, there is up to an 85 percent chance that your baby will develop CRS. If you think you might have been exposed to rubella, it needs to be discussed with your doctor immediately.

Dr. Karen Leham is double board-certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and in Reproductive Endocronology and Infertility. Dr. Leham completed her residency at Loyola University, followed by a fellowship at UCLA.