The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child’s Health (RCPCH) recently issued a warning about the risks to pregnant women as there have been diminishing rates of measles, mumps and rubella vaccination (MMR) uptake.

The immunisation lead at the RCPCH said the falling uptake of the MMR vaccine could present a serious risk to pregnant women. This is because contracting rubella during a pregnancy can be very harmful to an unborn child. It can lead to blindness and deafness in the baby, and in the worst cases, can result in losing the baby or having to consider termination.

What is MMR?

MMR stands for measles, mumps, and rubella, which are three serious and highly infectious illnesses that can easily spread between unvaccinated people. They are all viral infections that can be caught by breathing in airborne micro droplets from an infected person or picking them up via surfaces and transferring the droplets from the hand to the mouth or nose.

Catching these diseases can be prevented by having both doses of the MMR vaccine, which is a combined vaccine to provide immunisation safely and effectively against measles, mumps, and rubella.

Most people are offered the MMR vaccine when they are a child. The first dose is given when the child is 12 months old and the second dose is given at around 3 years and 4 months old, before they start school. It is important everyone has both doses to give them long-lasting protection. Adults and older children can be given the two doses with only a one-month gap between them.

Why should pregnant women have the MMR vaccine?

It is important for women to get the MMR vaccine before they get pregnant, to reduce the risk of them becoming infected with measles, mumps, and rubella, which they could potentially pass on to their unborn child during their pregnancy.

If a woman becomes infected with rubella during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, in some cases. this can have serious consequences, such as miscarriage or stillbirth, and it can put their baby at high risk of a major congenial abnormality, commonly known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS).

Common symptoms of CRS include birth defects such as deafness, eye abnormalities, and congenital heart defects. Babies with these health issues require significant hospital treatment, and they can affect the child throughout their life.

If the mother catches rubella within the first ten weeks of pregnancy and she is not already immune to it, this causes damage to nine out of ten unborn babies. This is because the mother passes the virus on to her unborn baby, and it damages the organs as they develop. In contrast, if a woman contracts rubella prior to conception, or after 20 weeks of pregnancy, there is no documented risk to the baby.

Measles can also be harmful to your unborn child if you get it while pregnant. It can result in miscarriage or stillbirth, premature birth (before the 37th week of pregnancy), and a low birthweight for your baby. If you are pregnant and have had close contact with someone who has measles, you should seek medical attention.

It was previously thought that getting mumps during pregnancy increased the risk of miscarriage, but there is little evidence to back this up.

However, pregnant women should avoid close contact with people who have an active mumps infection as a general precaution (or any other type of infection for that matter). If you’re pregnant and suspect you’ve come into contact with someone who has mumps but haven’t been vaccinated, please seek advice from your doctor or midwife.

Why might women not have had the MMR vaccine?

In 1998, a scientist published a case series in a top health journal, The Lancet, which claimed that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine causes autism in children. The study is critically flawed and has been refuted by The Lancet since, however this naturally caused concern at the time amongst expectant parents and could still have lasting effects. As a result, many women refused the MMR vaccine.

Other reasons for parents to choose against their child having the MMR vaccine may be due to fear of side effects, or they may believe that natural immunity is better than vaccine-induced immunity.

The MMR vaccine has passed through clinical trials and is incredibly safe. It is the most effective and trustworthy method to prevent catching measles, mumps and rubella and medical advice is that people should ensure they have had both vaccine doses.

Should women get the MMR vaccine during their pregnancy?

Whilst there is no known risk for pregnant women to get the MMR vaccine during their pregnancy, it is not generally not recommended for women to have the vaccine during pregnancy as a precautionary measure. This is why the MMR vaccine will be offered to you immediately after your baby is born, if you have not had it already. This will protect you against measles, mumps, and rubella for your future pregnancies. It is therefore important for women to check they have had the MMR vaccine before getting pregnant.

How can I check if I’ve had both doses of the MMR vaccine?

Your GP surgery or doctor should be able to check if you have had both doses of the MMR vaccine. It may also be listed on your vaccination record which you may be able to access through GP online services.

Should you not be able to find a record of you having both doses of the MMR vaccination, it will not harm you to have the vaccine again.

MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine: advice for pregnant women

By Dr Vinita Singh, Consultant Obstetrician from The Portland Hospital (part of HCA Healthcare UK)

Read Next

Parental Control, Ep 66: An Eye-Opening Conversation With The Naked Doula About Pregnancy & Birth

What Are The Benefits Of Reflexology For Fertility And Pregnancy?