Chicken pox vaccine

I am nursing my twelve month old son, and I had hoped to allow him to wean naturally. However, I have never had the chicken pox and my doctor suggests I be vaccinated before becoming pregnant again. Is it necessary to wean before I do this?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Your Doctor has most likely recommended you receive the chicken pox or varicella vaccine prior to becoming pregnant because of the possibility of exposure to your unborn baby early in pregnancy or just before birth. When the disease is developed in utero (congenital chicken pox), exposure may cause limb abnormalities, or eye and skin defects. Virtually all cases of congenital chicken pox occur before the 20th week of pregnancy. The chance of a child developing birth defects is still only two to three percent at this time of highest risk. This is about the risk of developing birth defects in the general population. Exposure to the disease 5 days or less before the birth can put the baby at risk for a disease of the central nervous system.

The varicella vaccine (Varivax) is predicted to be 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing the disease. Before getting this vaccine, it would be wise to have your Health Care Provider (HCP) do a blood test to be certain that you are not already immune to chicken pox. Around 80% of adults who think they have not had chicken pox as a child are actually immune to the disease.

The varicella vaccine is not likely to transfer to breastmilk because it is a live strain. (Hale 1996.) "Neither killed nor live vaccines affect the safety of breastfeeding for mothers or infants", states the US Centers for Disease Control (1994.) If you or your HCP are concerned about the effect of this vaccine on your nursing baby, discuss the possibility of the baby receiving the vaccine at the same time (Centers for Disease Control 1996.) Though most vaccines can be safely used by the nursing mother, it is advisable to remind your HCP that you are breastfeeding whenever a medication or vaccination is recommended.

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