The risks of hepatitis during pregnancy are generally low since the infection is usually mild and treatable with vaccines. In some cases, hepatitis can put extra stress on the liver, which can lead to complications like gallstones, cholestasis, or an acute fatty liver condition. A hepatitis B infection has the highest risk of being passed to the newborn, even when the mother does not experience symptoms. Also, hepatitis A can cause complications with the pregnancy and affect the fetus in severe cases. Although the risks from hepatitis C are very low, there is no vaccine or cure for this type of infection.
Most of the time, pregnancy does not affect the severity of hepatitis, and most women with hepatitis can have a normal pregnancy. A doctor might require frequent liver function tests for those with hepatitis during pregnancy to check the status of the disease. When the infection is severe, it can lead to various complications.
In about 6% of cases, hepatitis during pregnancy can result in gallstones. If serious enough, it might require surgery to remove them, although the risks must be weighed against the possibility of miscarriage or premature delivery. Another complication that can occur is called cholestasis, in which the woman will get itchy skin, particularly on the hands and feet. Additionally, one might develop acute fatty liver, which can be life-threatening. This condition can lead to premature delivery in order to save the mother’s life. In such situations, the infant might be born completely healthy, or it can possibly be stillborn.
Of the different forms of hepatitis during pregnancy, hepatitis B poses the greatest risk of being transmitted to the infant. It does not typically cause problems during the pregnancy itself, other than the usual symptoms of jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. During the delivery, the infant can contract the disease from the infected body fluid of the mother, and infants who are infected at birth are highly likely to become chronic carriers of hepatitis B. A pregnant woman who tests positive for this type of hepatitis during pregnancy can receive immune globulin as well as the vaccine. The infant should receive both hepatitis B immune globulin and a vaccine within 12 hours of birth to prevent getting the disease.
Unlike hepatitis B, testing for hepatitis A is not routinely done during pregnancy unless a doctor suspects the disease. This type of infection is spread through feces in unsanitary conditions, so as long as the delivery is done in a sterile environment, there is little risk of it passing to the infant after birth. There are a few risks associated with this type of hepatitis during pregnancy, however. It can cause premature labor, distress to the fetus, and possibly low birth weight for the infant. Hepatitis A immune globulin and the vaccine are both considered to be safe during pregnancy and are usually recommended for a pregnant woman with the infection.
Hepatitis C is transmitted through infected blood. If a woman has this kind of hepatitis during pregnancy, it can be passed to the infant through the uterus in about 3% of cases. There are no specific risks associated with hepatitis C during pregnancy, but a doctor will generally do tests to check the liver function throughout the pregnancy. There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C.