Hepatitis B infection can be passed from mother to baby. Whether you have been diagnosed with hepatitis B or could be at risk of catching it, the best way to fully protect your baby against hepatitis B is to immunise them from birth.
The information on this page is designed to inform you about the necessary immunisations which will help protect your baby.
Questions and answers:
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. Many people with hepatitis B have no symptoms at all and don’t know they are infected. Others have flu-like symptoms and yellowing of the skin (jaundice). Hepatitis B infection can only be identified by a blood test.
Many adults with hepatitis B recover fully but about one in 10 adults can remain infectious and spread the infection to others. About one in five of this group could develop serious liver disease later in life.
How can you become infected with hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B virus is carried in the blood and other body fluids. There are three main ways by which infection is spread:
- by sexual intercourse with an infected person without a condom
- by direct contact with the blood of an infected person, e.g. by sharing toothbrushes and razors; from equipment used for tattooing and body piercing; and between drug users who share needles, syringes and other equipment
- from an infected mother to her baby.
Why is hepatitis B infection particularly serious for babies?
Without immunisation, many babies born to mothers who have hepatitis B will become infected.
As many as nine out of 10 babies who become infected with the hepatitis B virus will develop a long-lasting infection and may develop serious liver disease later in life.
If your baby is fully immunised, they have a 95% chance of being protected from hepatitis B for life.
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How can I protect my baby?
Getting your baby immunised will protect them from the hepatitis B virus. Your baby will be given the first dose of the vaccine at birth. Some babies may also be given an injection of protective antibodies – you will be told if this is advised for your baby.
Your baby will need further doses of vaccine for full protection against infection.
The full course consists of:
- the first dose at birth
- the second dose at 1 month
- the third dose at 2 months
- the fourth dose at 12 months.
If you have hepatitis B, your baby will need a blood test at 12 months to check the immunisation has worked. For children still at risk, a fifth dose will be given when they are 3 years 4 months old with their other routine immunisations.
It is important for your baby to receive a full course of hepatitis B vaccine at the right time in order for it to work.
You will be informed by letter where and when to get these immunisations. If you are unsure please contact your midwife, health visitor or GP.
Could my partner and other children be at risk of catching hepatitis B?
Yes. It may be necessary for your partner and any other children to have blood tests and/or a course of the vaccine.
Is the hepatitis B vaccine safe?
The vaccine is very safe and millions of doses have been given to babies worldwide without serious side effects.
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Are there any side effects?
Your baby may get a little redness, swelling, or tenderness where the injection was given. This will disappear on its own.
Will it be safe to breastfeed?
Yes – but your baby should still receive a full course of the vaccine.
Where can I get more information?
If you have any other questions or concerns, talk to your midwife, practice nurse or GP, or call the NHS inform helpline on 0800 22 44 88 (textphone 18001 0800 22 44 88). The helpline is open every day 8 am to 10 pm and also provides an interpreting service.
You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card Scheme. This can be done online by visiting www.yellowcard.gov.uk or by calling the Yellow Card hotline on 0808 100 3352 (available Monday to Friday – 10 am to 2 pm).
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