Hepatitis B and Pregnancy

Once a serious and life threatening infection, Hepatitis B can now be prevented through a vaccine. However, if you have Hepatitis B, leaving it untreated can pose a serious threat to your baby.

What is Hepatitis B?
The cause of Hepatitis B (also known as Hepatitis B Virus of HBV) is a virus that infects and attacks your liver. If left untreated, the disease can become chronic and result in serious damage to your body, including liver disease and liver cancer. There is no cure for Hepatitis B but a Hepatitis B vaccination is now available. Over 1.25 million Americans are currently infected with the disease. The majority of people who contract Hepatitis B will recover on their own. However, 15% to 25% of those with chronic infections die from the liver disease caused by the virus.

How Hepatitis B affects your Newborn
Hepatitis B is especially dangerous for infants and newborns. If you are pregnant and have Hepatitis B it can be passed to your baby, resulting in severe damage to his health. The virus causing Hepatitis B can sometimes be exchanged through the umbilical cord to your baby. More often, your baby will become infected with the virus as she passes through the birth canal during birth. The vaginal fluids and blood present here carry the infection.

Without proper vaccination, 90% of newborns will become chronic Hepatitis B carriers. This puts them at a high risk of developing liver disease and liver cancer. If your newborn contracts the disease, he will also be able to infect others. It is important to get tested for Hepatitis B as soon as you become pregnant.

Symptoms of Hepatitis B in Newborns
If you are infected, your baby will be probably be born with no symptoms of Hepatitis B. In fact, it can take years for Hepatitis B symptoms to develop. As your baby grows into adolescence, Hepatitis B signs and symptoms will begin to appear, including jaundice, joint pain, fatigue, nausea and loss of appetite. Your child’s liver will be affected, beginning to swell. Some children will develop liver disease or liver cancer as a result of the damage caused by HBV to the liver.

Testing and Treatment
If you are pregnant, it is necessary that you get tested for HBV. A Hepatitis B vaccine is now available to prevent infection. If administered properly, this Hepatitis B treatment is highly effective. 95% of vaccinated newborns are protected from Hepatitis B for life.

Hepatitis B treatment requires initial testing. Your doctor will perform a Hepatitis B blood test. This blood test will look for the presence of Hepatitis B surface antigens (HBsAg). These antigens are present in all of those who are infected with the virus. If you test positive for Hepatitis B, your doctor will recommend a hepatitis vaccination for your baby as soon as he is born. Your baby will receive two injections within twelve hours of birth, including Hepatitis B immunoglobulin and the first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine. Your baby will receive two more doses of the vaccine, first at 1 to 2 months and then again at 6 months.

If you are going to deliver, and haven’t been tested for the virus, your doctor will administer the first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine to your baby within twelve hours of birth. Your blood will be sent for testing as soon as possible. If you test positive, your baby will receive continued treatment for Hepatitis B, including Hepatitis B immunoglobulin within 7 days of birth. Your baby will also receive two more doses of the Hepatitis B vaccine, at 2 months and 6 months of age. If you test negative, your baby will return later for the subsequent vaccines.

Breastfeeding and Hepatitis B
You may wonder whether it is safe to breastfeed your baby if you are infected with Hepatitis B. Studies have shown that babies who are breastfed are at no greater risk of contracting the virus than those who are bottle-fed. However, if you are thinking of breastfeeding and have Hepatitis B, be aware that cracks or sores on your nipples can increase the risk of transmitting the disease to your child.

Visit our Pregnancy Complications forum to ask your questions about Hepatitis B and pregnancy

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