Tips for avoiding infections around conception and during pregnancy
Some infections in pregnancy can cause birth defects, miscarriage or other problems. These pages contain information on how you can protect you and your unborn baby from infection. It is important to protect yourself just before pregnancy (pre-conception) as well as in pregnancy.
1) See your family doctor (GP) about vaccination for rubella and varicella before pregnancy.
Rubella (German measles) and varicella (chicken pox) can cause birth defects if a woman is infected during pregnancy. Ask your doctor for a blood test to check your immunity if you are not sure what immunisations you have had. Vaccination before pregnancy can protect you and your baby. You will need to avoid pregnancy for one month after vaccination. You may also wish to talk to your GP about vaccination for influenza and hepatitis B before pregnancy. Make sure you are fully immunised against measles, mumps, diphtheria, and tetanus as well. More information from Victorian Department of Health is available here.
2) Washing your hands with soap and water after the following:
- Using the toilet
- Changing nappies
- Touching raw meat, raw eggs, or unwashed vegetables
- Preparing food and eating
- Gardening or touching dirt or soil
- Handling pets
- Being around people who are sick
- Getting saliva (spit) on your hands
- Caring for and playing with children
3) Minimise contact with saliva and urine from babies and young children
A common virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV) can cause harm to some unborn babies. This can include hearing loss and development problems. Toddlers and babies are common sources of CMV infection. CMV usually doesn't cause a major illness in healthy people. Women who are pregnant or are planning pregnancy should follow these tips:
- Don't share food, drinks, eating utensils or toothbrushes with young children
- Avoid contact with saliva when kissing a child (eg. kiss them on top of the head instead of the face)
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds and dry them thorough after close contact with young children, changing nappies, blowing noses, feeding a young child, and handling children's toys and dummies.
- Carefully through away used nappies and tissues
- Clean toys, countertops and other surfaces that come into contact with children's urine, mucus or saliva with simple detergent and water.
A video with more information on preventing CMV infection during pregnancy can be found here.
4) Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and foods made from it, ready-to-eat chilled food (such as take-away salads), soft cheeses, deli meats, raw eggs and undercooked food (especially meat).
Foods like these may be infected with a bacteria called listeria. Listeria can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. Salmonella is another potential food-borne illness that can be reduced with good food hygiene. Toxoplasmosis can also be prevented by cooking meat well. More information on healthy, safe eating for pregnancy can be found from the NSW Food Authority here.
5) Do not touch dirty cat litter. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching soil or cat litter.
Cats may carry a parasite that causes a disease called toxoplasmosis. The parasite's eggs are excreted in cat faeces (poo). This can contaminate food and be ingested by humans. If a pregnant woman has a toxoplasmosis infection, it may cause birth defects or miscarriage. If you need to change cat litter yourself, use gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. You should also wash your hands thoroughly after touching soil or dirt.
6) Get medical advice before travelling.
Some countries have infections that can cause serious harm to a pregnant woman or her unborn baby, including Zika virus and malaria. Please discuss any travel plans during pregnancy with your doctor. Consider whether you really need to travel. Vaccinations and/or medicines may be recommended to reduce your risk of some infections.
7) Sexually-transmitted diseases are common and may cause problems in pregnancy.
These infections include syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Talk with your GP about whether you should have testing before pregnancy.
8) Hepatitis C virus infection can be transmitted from mother to baby during birth. If you have hepatitis C, treatments are recommended before pregnancy. New treatments have high cure rates. These treatments are not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so planning ahead is important.
9) Be immunised in pregnancy for flu (influenza) and whooping cough.
- Flu (influenza) infection can cause serious complications in a pregnant woman, including the need for hospital treatment. Flu immunisation is free and recommended at any time during pregnancy. The flu vaccine does not contain live virus and being immunized during pregnancy is safe for your unborn baby.
- You should have a whooping cough vaccine in the third trimester of pregnancy, ideally between 28 and 32 weeks gestation. Having the whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy has been shown to protect young babies by passing protection from the mother to the baby. Whooping cough infection can cause serious complications in a baby, which may include death. The whooping cough vaccine is combined with the tetanus and diphtheria vaccine, so you will receive protection against all three diseases with the one injection.
- More information from the Australian Department of Health on immunisation for pregnancy can be found here.