Chickenpox in Babies: What You Need to Know

Chickenpox in Babies: What You Need to Know

Want to know what you can do about chickenpox on babies? When do kids get the chickenpox vaccine? Let’s find out.
When your little one is covered with hundreds of itchy red bumps, fun is well and truly off the table.

The good news, however, is that chickenpox in babies just isn’t as common as it used to be.

Do kids even get chickenpox anymore?

Well, yes, but in the US, chickenpox cases by year have plummeted since the launch of a vaccine in 1995.

And if you notice any chickenpox baby symptoms, they’ll likely be all better in a few short days.

But it’s still best to seek your pediatrician’s advice — for chickenpox on babies younger than 1-year-old can sometimes be more serious.

In this article, we take a look at symptoms, treatments, and all your FAQs about baby chickenpox.

In this article: 📝

  • What causes chickenpox in infants?
  • Symptoms of chickenpox in infants
  • Is chickenpox dangerous in babies?
  • What should I do if my child has chickenpox?
  • How do you treat chickenpox in babies?
  • Shingles vs. chickenpox
  • Chickenpox in babies: FAQs

What causes chickenpox in infants?

Chickenpox on babies is passed on through a virus called varicella-zoster.

So your baby could catch it if they have contact with another adult, child, or baby with chickenpox.

That might be through touching the person’s saliva, mucus, or blisters (the itchy red spots). Let’s face it, everything babies love to touch.

The virus can also travel through the air via coughs or sneezes.

But at what age do you get the chickenpox vaccine? Well, babies can’t be vaccinated against chickenpox until they’re one year old.

But the good news is, they’re still protected by “herd immunity”.

In other words, if a lot of people around them have had the vaccine (or are immune, because they’ve already had the illness), they’re less likely to catch chickenpox.

If your baby is a newborn or has a weakened immune system (where their body can’t fight off illness so well), it’s important to keep them away from someone infected with chickenpox.

That’s because the illness could affect them more severely.

Symptoms of chickenpox in infants

About one to two days before the distinctive rash appears, there are some early signs of chickenpox in babies that you might spot:

How do I know if my baby has chickenpox?

There are a few telltale signs of chickenpox in infants to keep an eye out for, even before they develop a rash.

Here are some of the first signs of chickenpox in infants:

  • Fever (a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or over)
  • Coughing
  • Fussing and crying more than usual
  • Not feeding well
  • Being tired or sleeping more than normal

Chickenpox rash on baby

Typically, you’ll notice those early signs of chickenpox in babies before the notorious rash develops.

But what does chickenpox look like on a baby?

The rash of chickenpox on babies will generally show up on their chest, scalp, and face first.

Then it spreads to the rest of their body.

You could see up to 500 itchy red bumps — but it might be a lot less if it’s just a mild case.

Babies with chickenpox who already have a skin condition, like eczema, can get a more severe rash.

What are the stages of chickenpox in children?

The first stage of chickenpox in babies and infants is the other symptoms that aren’t the classic baby chickenpox rash.

The rash itself has a few different stages and actually comes in waves over two to four days.

Here’s what happens:

  • Tiny red spots appear
  • They fill with fluid to become blisters
  • The blisters break and leak
  • They begin to scab over and heal

Because there are usually several waves of the rash, you could see all these different phases on your baby’s body at once — spots, blisters, and scabs.

But don’t worry: in most cases the rash of chickenpox on babies will heal up nicely, leaving no scars.

How to test for chickenpox

Most mamas tend not to arrange for a test to see if it’s chickenpox on baby ‒ the rash is usually the obvious sign, but sometimes, it’s not so obvious.

If, for example, baby has a pre-existing skin condition that makes it tough to tell if a rash is chickenpox or not, you might choose to have baby tested for chickenpox.

The titer test for chickenpox is the most accurate way to determine whether baby has had chickenpox in the past.

The titer test usually isn’t used to tell if your infant has an active case of chickenpox in babies ‒ complete wish rash ‒ but is more typically used after they’ve had a suspected case of chickenpox, or if they’re not showing any clear symptoms.

So just what is the titer test for chickenpox? Well, it can be done in a few different ways.

It can either be done with a small biopsy of the chickenpox blisters, or by less invasive means, like samples taken from saliva, urine, or from up their nose.

Is chickenpox dangerous in babies?

For the majority of the time, chickenpox is a mild illness.

While your poor baby might be uncomfortable for a few days, they won’t usually have severe symptoms.

And most kids will become immune to the infection once they’ve had it.

That said, you should let your pediatrician know if you suspect chickenpox in baby, even if it seems mild.

And tell them if you see any of the following chickenpox baby symptoms (which could suggest a more serious illness):

  • A rash that’s very red, tender, and warm to touch
  • A rash that’s spread to your baby’s eyes
  • A fever of over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or which lasts more than 4 days
  • Your baby isn’t waking up or seems extremely drowsy
  • Trouble breathing or a fast heartbeat
  • A severe cough, vomiting, or a stiff neck

Also, it’s best to check in with your doctor if:

  • It’s chickenpox in baby under 1
  • They have eczema, asthma, or a weakened immune system
  • You have another baby of less than six months old at home or any adults or kids with a weakened immune system (where chickenpox could affect them more severely if they catch it)

Chickenpox complications

In rare cases, chickenpox in infants can lead to complications (that is, other medical issues).

This may be more likely if your baby doesn’t have what’s called “passive immunity”.

That’s where they pick up some resistance to chickenpox through you if you had chickenpox — or the chickenpox vaccine — before your pregnancy.

Without passive immunity, babies with chickenpox have a higher risk of developing:

  • Sepsis (a blood infection)
  • A bacterial infection, such as strep throat
  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Dehydration

So if you haven’t had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine yourself, and your baby catches the illness, it’s important to seek medical advice as soon as you can.

What should I do if my child has chickenpox?

Firstly, if you think baby has chickenpox, try not to panic.

(We know, it’s easier said than done)

Then check in with a doctor if it’s chickenpox in baby under 1, if they have a pre-existing skin condition, or if they (or anyone else in the household) have a weakened immune system.

It’s best to call your doctor rather than visiting them in person, if you can help it ‒ to prevent the spread of baby chickenpox.

In most cases, the baby chickenpox will go away by itself within about 10 days, but there are some things you can do to help soothe baby’s chickenpox rash.

How do you treat chickenpox in babies?

Chickenpox in babies usually gets better on its own in five to 10 days.

Until it does, here are a few homemade remedies for chickenpox you can do to make your baby more comfortable:

  • Bathe them in a lukewarm oatmeal bath, and pat (don’t rub) them dry afterward. This will help reduce itching.
  • Apply calamine lotion to the itchy spots.
  • Keep them hydrated (only with milk if they’re under six months old).
  • Dress them in loose-fitting clothes (or just a diaper, if they’re happier like that).
  • Trim their nails or pop on a pair of mittens to help stop them scratching the spots.
  • Ask your doctor about baby-safe medicine for pain, fever, and itchiness.

Important: Never give a baby (or a child under 18 years old) aspirin when they have chickenpox. This can lead to a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.

How many days does it take to recover from chickenpox?

Chickenpox baby symptoms can last for five to 10 days.

And it’s important to keep your little one at home until they’re no longer infectious.

That’s about 10 days after the first chickenpox baby symptoms appeared, once the scabs have dried up.

What about chickenpox scars?

If baby’s had chickenpox and are left with a few scars (stopping them from scratching completely is near-impossible!), it’s usually nothing to worry about.

Most adults have chickenpox scars ‒ it’s sort of a rite of passage for babies born before 1995.

Chickenpox scars are usually caused by scratching the itchy blisters, or particularly aggressive lesions.

There are a few treatments for chickenpox scars, but if baby has some chickenpox scars, it’s better to wait until they’re past puberty to treat them.

This is because their skin is very sensitive before puberty, and during puberty, it could be even more sensitive, especially if they have teenage acne.

Some treatments of chickenpox scars include:

  • Cocoa butter and shea butter
  • Aloe vera
  • Rosehip oil
  • Retinol (by prescription)
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Cosmetic surgery

Other treatments for chickenpox in babies and infants

Babies with chickenpox can sometimes get a bacterial infection around their blisters if they scratch them too much.

Your doctor might prescribe a course of antibiotics to help clear this up.

If your child is at risk of complications from baby chickenpox, they might get an antiviral medication to help make their symptoms less severe.

Does breastfeeding help chickenpox?

It depends. If you’ve already had chickenpox, your natural immunity can transfer over to baby while breastfeeding to help reduce the chances of them catching chickenpox in infants, but it’s not a guarantee.

Your immunized breast milk could also reduce the baby chickenpox symptoms, so if baby does catch chickenpox, they might not get it as badly as they could, or it could go away quicker, according to this 2012 study.

Can I use a chickenpox moisturizer?

Baby chickenpox blisters are very sensitive, so it’s best not to apply any scented or medicated chickenpox moisturizer unless you’re instructed to by your doctor.

The best chickenpox moisturizers to use are calamine lotion and keeping baby hydrated (either with breast/formula milk or water, depending on their age).

Essential oils for chickenpox in babies

Before we talk about essential oils for chickenpox, a quick word: do not put any undiluted essential oils on your baby’s skin.

They can cause skin damage and allergic reactions, so it’s best to avoid them if undiluted.

It’s also generally advised to avoid essential oils altogether on babies 3 months old and under.

While there are a few recommendations about essential oils for chickenpox in infants and babies, none of these are supported by scientific studies.

The best way to treat baby’s chickenpox? Lukewarm oatmeal baths, calamine lotion, and hydration.

Adding too many topical treatments to the mix can make the baby chickenpox last longer.

Shingles vs. chickenpox

Contrary to popular belief, chickenpox and shingles aren’t actually the same thing.

They’re both caused by the same virus, but they’re not the same illness.

Chickenpox is usually found in children, and is a milder form of the virus, whereas shingles is usually found in adults who have already had chickenpox.

Can you get shingles if you never had chickenpox?

No, you can’t get shingles if you’ve never had chickenpox.

If you’re an adult who didn’t have chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, and you’re in contact with someone who has shingles, you could catch chickenpox from them, not shingles.

Technically, shingles isn’t contagious, but the virus that causes chickenpox is, which is also present in shingles.

Can you get shingles if you had chickenpox?

Yes, you can get shingles if you’ve had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.

This is because the chickenpox virus (varicella) actually stays in your body after you’ve recovered from chickenpox as a child.

If you have shingles, you should avoid anyone (children, babies, and adults) who hasn’t had chickenpox or hasn’t had the chickenpox or shingles vaccine.

Chickenpox in babies: FAQs

Let’s finish with a few of your FAQs about chickenpox in babies:

At what age can babies get chickenpox?

Usually, babies under 3 months don’t tend to catch chickenpox ‒ this is because most babies get antibodies from mama, but this is only if you’ve already had chickenpox.

But a baby of any age can get chickenpox, although it’s less common in the US now that more people are vaccinated.

If you choose to breastfeed (and you’ve already had chickenpox), that can further boost baby’s immunity against the dreaded pox.

Can a 6-month-old get chickenpox?

Yes, a 6-month-old baby can get chickenpox, although it is unlikely, due to herd immunity.

If a baby under 12 months catches chickenpox, however, it can develop into something more serious, so if you think your 6-month-old has chickenpox, get in touch with your doctor.

Can a 7-month-old get chickenpox?

Yes, a 7-month-old baby can also get chickenpox ‒ even if it is rare.

If your baby is less than a year old and you think they have early chickenpox symptoms, it’s best to contact your healthcare provider.

What happens if a newborn gets chickenpox?

Chickenpox in newborn babies can lead to a serious illness.

Having the chickenpox vaccine before getting pregnant can help prevent this (if you’re not already immune).

When do kids get the chickenpox vaccine?

So at what age do you get the chickenpox vaccine?

Babies can have their first dose of the chickenpox vaccine when they’re 12 to 15 months old.

They then get a top-up dose at four to six years old.

What is the chickenpox vaccine effectiveness?

The chickenpox vaccine efficacy is over 90% after two doses, so hopefully, more and more babies and kids are going to be ditching the itch in the years ahead.

In fact, after the chickenpox vaccine was introduced in the US in 1995, cases of chickenpox (and, by extension, hospitalizations, and deaths) have reduced significantly ‒ by 92%, according to the CDC.

What are the chickenpox vaccine ingredients?

The active ingredient of the chickenpox vaccine is a weakened form of the chickenpox varicella virus ‒ this is typically how most vaccines work.

There are some other inactive ingredients, too, which help get the vaccine to the right places in baby’s immune system:

  • Sucrose
  • Hydrolyzed gelatin
  • Sodium chloride
  • Monosodium L-glutamate
  • Sodium phosphate dibasic
  • Potassium phosphate monobasic
  • Potassium chloride
  • Residual components of MRC-5 cells including DNA and protein
  • Sodium phosphate monobasic
  • EDTA (ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid)
  • Neomycin
  • Fetal bovine serum

How long is chickenpox contagious?

In most cases, chickenpox in babies, children, and adults is contagious until the blisters or rash have crusted over.

However, in people who are vaccinated against chickenpox, they’re considered contagious until they’ve had no new blisters appear for 24 hours (since, typically, they do not have blisters so severe that they scab).

But the high contagion of chickenpox means it’s often a good idea to keep baby away from others to avoid it from spreading.

So if you want to contact a pediatrician to get baby’s diagnosis of chickenpox or for treatment of their itchiness, it could be worth looking into a virtual telehealth pediatrician service, like Blueberry Pediatrics, which our Peanut mamas love for its convenience and budget-friendly cost.

Can you get chickenpox twice?

Generally speaking, no, you can’t get chickenpox twice. But you can get shingles even if you’ve recovered from chickenpox.

There have been a handful of cases of people getting chickenpox twice, but this is very rare.

How do you say “chickenpox” in different languages?
If you’re on the look-out for chickenpox with family and friends who speak a different language, it can be worth learning what “chickenpox” is in different languages:

  • “Chickenpox” in Spanish is varicela
  • “Chickenpox” in Chinese is 水痘 (shuǐdòu)
  • “Chickenpox” in Japanese is 水疱瘡 (mizubōsō)
  • “Chickenpox” in Polish is ospa wietrzna
  • “Chickenpox” in Arabic is جدري (jadri)
  • “Chickenpox” in French is varicelle
  • “Chickenpox” in Russian is ветряная оспа (vetryanaya ospa)
  • “Chickenpox” in Portuguese is catapora
  • “Chickenpox” in German is Windpocken
  • “Chickenpox” in Korean is 수두 (sudu)

There you have it! All there is to know about chickenpox in babies!

Currently in the throes of looking after a baby with chickenpox?

Have a chat with our mamas on Peanut ‒ you’ll find helpful advice and a sympathetic ear (or two!).

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