How is hepatitis B spread?
Hepatitis B (also known as 'hepB') spreads through contact with body fluids of an infected person, including blood, semen and vaginal fluids. Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. It can be passed to your baby during birth. Children can become infected if they have an open wound and come into contact with someone who has the virus.
Other ways to become infected include:
- unsafe sex
- drug abuse with infected needles
- tattoo parlours
- unsanitary medical procedures such as intravenous blood transfusions
- needle stick injuries or exposure to bodily fluids
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
Symptoms of hepatitis B infection include:
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal pain
- yellowing of skin or eyes
- dark coloured urine (wee) and pale faeces (poo)
- muscle and joint pain
You may notice symptoms of hepatitis B weeks or even months after you are infected. Some people do not feel any symptoms, but are carriers of the virus. This means that they can still pass on the infection, even if they feel no symptoms.
Complications of hepatitis B infection include severe liver disease and liver cancer.
Should I have a blood test for hepatitis B?
Everyone should be tested for hepatitis B as part of routine pregnancy screening. If you are in an 'at risk' group, antenatal (pregnancy) screening for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), hepatitis B surface antibody (anti-HBs) and hepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc) is recommended at your first antenatal appointment.
Can hepatitis B be treated or cured?
Treatment for hepatitis B infection includes antiviral medicines and regular monitoring. Antiviral medicines can help reduce the amount of hepatitis B in your blood before your baby is born.
It is also very important to vaccinate your child against hepatitis B. This is free, as part of the National Immunisation Program.
Will hepatitis B affect my pregnancy?
Your pregnancy should not be impacted by having a hepatitis B infection, but there is a risk you will pass the virus on to your newborn during birth.
How do I prepare for labour and birth?
If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis B, your doctor will monitor the level of the virus in your blood (known as the viral load) during your pregnancy.
They may prescribe medicine to help reduce the risk of your baby becoming infected. They will also offer to give your baby an injection of hepatitis B immunoglobulin (antibodies) as well as the hepatitis B vaccine within a few hours of being born.
How can I reduce the risk of passing on the virus to my baby?
If your viral load in your blood is high, you can reduce the risk of passing the virus to your baby by taking the antiviral medicines your doctor prescribes. If you have hepatitis B, it is especially important that your baby has all their recommended vaccinations on time.
Your baby's first hepatitis B vaccine is usually given before they leave hospital — ask your midwife for more information.
Is it safe for me to breastfeed if I have hepatitis B?
Yes — breastmilk is the healthiest option for your baby. You can safely breastfeed if you have hepatitis B, as long as your baby has had the recommended course of vaccinations.
Will my hepatitis B diagnosis affect my baby?
Most babies do not catch hepatitis B.
If you have hepatitis B, doctors recommend that your baby has an injection of hepatitis B immunoglobulin shortly after birth. They will need follow-up screening for immunity at 9 months of age.
All babies born in Australia are eligible to receive 4 doses of the hepatitis B vaccine as part of the National Immunisation Program. You will be able to care for your baby normally at home.
Resources and support
If you are concerned about hepatitis B affecting your pregnancy or newborn, you can contact one of the following organisations for help:
- Hepatitis Australia — call 1800 437 222.
- National Immunisation Program — call 1800 671 811.
- Find up to date vaccination information from the Australian Immunisation Handbook.
NSW Health has a useful fact sheet on hepatitis B pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: August 2023