National Immunization Awareness Month is a reminder that we all need vaccines throughout our lives.
Vaccines are an important component of a healthy pregnancy. Women should be up to date on their vaccines before becoming pregnant, and should receive vaccines against both the flu and whooping cough (pertussis) during pregnancy. These vaccines not only protect the mother by preventing illnesses and complications, but also pass on protection to her baby before birth.
Get off to a healthy start by making sure that your immunizations are up to date before becoming pregnant. Some vaccine-preventable diseases, such as rubella, can lead to significant pregnancy complications, including birth defects. Women who are planning to become pregnant may need to receive some vaccines before the start of pregnancy. These vaccines, such as the measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine, may need to be administered at least 4 weeks before a woman becomes pregnant.
The vaccines you get during your pregnancy will provide your developing baby with some disease protection (immunity) that will last the first months of life after birth. By getting vaccinated during pregnancy, you can pass antibodies to your baby that may help protect against diseases. This early coverage is critical for diseases like the flu and whooping cough because babies in the first several months of life are at the greatest risk of severe illness from these diseases but are too young to be vaccinated themselves. Passing maternal antibodies on to them is the only way to help directly benefit them. You can continue to look after your child’s health after they are born by following the recommended childhood immunization schedule as it is the best way to protect them from 14 serious, vaccine preventable diseases.
When it comes to flu, even if you are generally healthy, changes in immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make you more likely to have a severe case of the flu if you catch it. If you catch the flu when you are pregnant, you also have a higher chance of experiencing pregnancy complications, such as premature labor and delivery. Getting a flu shot will help protect you and your baby while you are pregnant.
In cases when doctors are able to determine who spread whooping cough to an infant, the mother was often the source. Once you have protection from the Tdap shot, you are less likely to give whooping cough to your newborn while caring for him or her. The whooping cough vaccine also is very safe for you and your developing baby. Doctors and midwives who specialize in caring for pregnant women agree that the whooping cough vaccine is important to get during the third trimester of each pregnancy. Getting the vaccine during your pregnancy will not put you at increased risk for pregnancy complications. Even if you recently received the Tdap vaccine, you should get one during each pregnancy. The amount of antibodies in your body is highest about 2 weeks after getting the vaccine, but then starts to decrease over time. That is why the vaccine is recommended during every pregnancy – so that each of your babies gets the greatest number of antibodies from you and the best protection possible against this disease.
When a baby’s family members and caregivers get a whooping cough vaccine, they help protect their own health while forming a protective circle of immunity around the baby. Whooping cough is very easy to spread. Because whooping cough in its early stages can appear to be nothing more than the common cold, it is often not suspected or diagnosed until the cough persists or becomes severe or long-lasting. The term “cocooning” means vaccinating people who care for or come in close contact with babies. However, cocooning alone might not be enough to prevent whooping cough illness and death in babies. That’s why it’s so important for women to receive the whooping cough vaccine during each pregnancy. This is because cocooning does not provide any direct protection (antibodies) to your baby, and it can be difficult to make sure everyone who is around your baby had their whooping cough vaccine
You should get your whooping cough vaccine with each pregnancy between your 27th and 36th week of pregnancy. If you are pregnant during the flu season, you should get a flu vaccine soon after vaccine is available. You can get a flu shot during any trimester. You can get whooping cough and flu vaccines at the same time during your pregnancy or at different visits.
You also can rest assured that these vaccines are very safe for you and your developing baby. Millions of pregnant women have safely received flu shots for many years, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to monitor safety data on flu vaccine in pregnant women.
By: Rebecca Vanucci, Immunization Outreach Coordinator, MDPH Immunization Program