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Your baby or child being unwell is every parents worst nightmare: there is nothing worse than seeing them in pain or discomfort and not being their usual selves. Generally, we do anything we can to prevent them from getting ill but when it comes to the chickenpox we are told it is best to expose our little ones to the virus when they’re young.
But how young is too young to be exposed to chickenpox? And, if you’re breastfeeding is your baby immune to chickenpox anyway? Throughout this article we explore what chickenpox is with a description of the symptoms as well as some tips on how to deal with the infection to make your child more comfortable. We will also explore whether breastfed babies are immune to the virus and what to do if a newborn has been exposed to chickenpox. If you have any concerns about your child’s health we would encourage you to contact your GP to discuss the symptoms with the experts and get the best care for your little one.
What is chickenpox?
Getting chickenpox in childhood is common, it usually goes away by itself within a week of the red spots appearing without needing to take a trip to the doctors. Chickenpox starts with red spots that can appear anywhere on your child’s body, these spots will begin to fill with fluid and become blisters and may burst – they might spread or stay in the same area, finally the blisters begin to scab over which signals that your child is coming towards the end of the virus. In the time before, during and after the spots appear you may also notice your little one has a temperature above 38 degrees celsius, a loss of appetite and they are generally feeling unwell with aches and pains.
What do I do if my child has chickenpox?
Although there is no specific medicine for chickenpox, according to the NHS there are several things you can do to ease your child’s discomfort. Firstly, encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids: these could be ice lollies, juice, or fruit and vegetables with a high water content such as cucumber and watermelon. Common teething medicines can help take the edge off. Breastmilk changes with your child so extra feeding can make things easier for your child even if it isn’t easy for you.
Cut your child’s nails and use socks on their hands and feet at night to minimise scratching. Bathe in cool water, pat skin dry and apply cooling gels and lotions to your child’s skin. Do speak to your GP if you are concerned the spots could be something other than chickenpox, the skin around the blisters is hot, your child is dehydrated or if you have concerns about your child.
Do breastfed babies have immunity to chickenpox?
According to the NHS, during the last 3 months of pregnancy, antibodies from the mother are passed to the newborn via the placenta. So, if the mother has had chickenpox themselves then the baby will have passive immunity to the virus when they are born. The amount and type of antibodies passed on will depend on the mother’s immunity; the passive immunity is temporary and starts to decrease after the first few weeks or months. Breast milk contains the mother’s antibodies, which means that babies that are breastfed have passive immunity for longer.
Are babies immune to chickenpox?
The vast majority of newborns inherit temporary immunity to chickenpox from their mothers when they are born. Mothers who have had chickenpox previously will pass on their immunity to the child whilst pregnant. For every newborn, the inherited temporary immunity to chickenpox can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
What happens if a baby is exposed to chickenpox?
If you get informed that your baby has been in contact with someone who has chickenpox then there is very little you can do other than monitor your little one closely to see how they are and monitor their temperature, mood and skin whilst keeping them hydrated. It would be incredibly difficult to prevent your baby and child from ever being exposed to chickenpox: the virus spreads before symptoms appear, it spreads easily through close contact and as babies and children frequently put items to their mouths then germs pass quickly between them.
Can my 6-month-old get chickenpox?
Yes it is possible for a 6 month old baby to catch chickenpox if they have come into contact with the virus. Newborns are born with temporary immunity to a range of illnesses that have been passed to them via their mother in pregnancy but this immunity will wear off before 6 months. The chickenpox virus spreads easily through close contact; when an infected person coughs or sneezes then the virus is present in the saliva and mucus. Children can carry the virus for upto 2 weeks before the spots occur, so your baby may come into contact with someone with the virus without you even realising. For the vast majority of healthy babies, chickenpox will be more of an annoyance than a serious concern.
Chickenpox is a common and highly contagious childhood illness. Newborn babies have temporary passive immunity to the virus if their mother had the illness herself and thus is able to pass the antibodies onto their baby. If your baby is breastfed then they will continue to get the mother’s antibodies and have the passive immunity to the virus for longer. It is not clear how long the passive immunity will last for after birth or whilst breastfeeding as this will vary for every mother and baby. If your baby or child does catch chickenpox there are many steps you can take to make them feel more comfortable and minimise the chance of scarring once the blisters have gone. Keep your little one hydrated and comfortable and seek medical advice if you are concerned at any point.