Rubella and pregnancy

To be confident that you are protected against rubella, you should be sure that you have received two mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) immunisations.

A pregnant woman holding her stomachIf you are not sure, you should check with your GP, even if you've had the MMR vaccine before, having two more won't do any harm.

If you receive an MMR vaccination, the NHS advises that you avoid becoming pregnant for a month. There’s no evidence that the vaccine causes rubella damage to unborn babies.

In the UK, studies have followed more than 130 women vaccinated up to three months before or during pregnancy, and none have had babies with congenital rubella syndrome. Just over a third of these women were vaccinated during the period of likely greatest risk, between 7 and 42 days after the beginning of their last period (therefore close to conception).

Findings in the UK are in line with similar studies in the US, Scandinavia, Germany and South and Central America.

Screening

If you are pregnant before April 1 2016

If you register your pregnancy before April 1 2016, you will be offered a screening test for rubella during your pregnancy. This test establishes your current immunity to rubella, and does not offer any protection to your current pregnancy. 

The results, based on the levels of rubella antibodies in your blood, will either show that you are immune, or susceptible to rubella infection. Most women are immune and no further action is required.

If you are susceptible you will be advised to get vaccinated with MMR after your pregnancy to protect any future pregnancies, either your own, or those of women around you.

Sense and the Department of Health have jointly produced a leaflet, Thinking of getting pregnant?, which answers questions you may have if you are thinking of becoming pregnant such as how to protect your unborn baby and the unborn children of those that you are close to. This publication is available in English, Bengali and Tamil and can be downloaded below. We have also produced this information in audio format in Bengali and Tamil.

Thinking of getting pregnant?

Thinking of getting pregnant? In Bengali

Thinking of getting pregnant? In Bengali, audio file

April 1 2016 onwards

Screening for rubella susceptibility during pregnancy will stop for pregnancies registered after April 1st 2016. This is a sign of how far we’ve come in the protecting against rubella and follows two reviews of evidence by the UK National Screening Committee. 

Vaccination take up is at high levels – 94.5% of children received at least one does of MMR by age 5 during 2014/15, rubella is now rare in the UK, rubella infection during pregnancy is very rare and the most effective way to protect women against rubella in pregnancy is to ensure they are fully immunised with MMR before becoming pregnant. All if this a cause for celebration. 

The current screening programme does not stop rubella circulating and does not protect pregnant women. In the past it has played a part in helping protect future pregnancies, but that job is now done by MMR. Stopping rubella screening in pregnancy will not lead to an increase in cases of Congenital Rubella Syndrome. 

To protect women and their unborn babies we need to immunise them and those around them, before they get pregnant. 

For advice, information and support about screening during pregnancy talk to your GP, Midwife, or ARC. ARC is the only national charity helping parents and professionals through antenatal screening.

Before and during pregnancy

If you are pregnant and you think you may have been in close contact with someone with rubella, then contact your GP. They will be able to refer you for tests to see if you have contracted rubella (which is unlikely, but it is important to take precautions).

Some young women, who may now be starting to think about planning a family, missed out on their immunisations when they were children. It is not too late to be vaccinated.

The rubella virus in MMR is a weakened form of the wild virus. Sense is not aware of any evidence that people can catch rubella from someone who has had the vaccine, so it is not dangerous to mix with children who have had the MMR vaccine.

New UK arrivals

If you’ve only just arrived in the UK, speak to your doctor to check your immunisation history and, if you need them, two MMR immunisations will be offered as soon as possible.

Other Rash Diseases in Pregnancy

A number of viruses can cause a rash, like rubella, including parvovirus B19, cytomegalovirus and chickenpox, and there are specific risks associated with them for pregnant women. 

If you develop a rash at any time in your pregnancy inform your midwife, GP or obstetrician urgently. You will be advised about the screening and tests that will follow. 

You should avoid any antenatal clinic or maternity setting until you have been assessed, to avoid exposing other pregnant women.

First published: Monday 21 May 2012
Updated: Thursday 22 September 2016