One of the best opportunities you’ll have to protect your unborn baby is being vaccinated against pertussis (whooping cough) and influenza (flu). These vaccines cause your body to produce antibodies, which naturally pass through the placenta and breastmilk to protect your baby — just like the antibodies you’ve built up to the common cold and other illnesses throughout your life. The vaccines themselves do not pass to the baby.
Tdap (Pertussis/Whooping Cough)
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is an illness that’s unpleasant for adults (it’s also been described as the “hundred-day cough”), but can be extremely dangerous for newborns, who are actually at risk of hospitalization and death if they catch the disease. There have been increasing numbers of outbreaks in recent years, including in Virginia.
We, along with the CDC and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), strongly recommend that you get the Tdap vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.
If you don’t manage to be vaccinated during pregnancy, we will offer it postpartum before you go home from the hospital, so you can still protect the baby with antibodies in breastmilk (and by minimizing the risk that you will catch it and bring it home). You should get a booster with each pregnancy.
Other family members should also be vaccinated if they aren’t up to date, but do not need a new vaccine with the birth of each baby.
The flu is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, who can become much sicker than healthy non-pregnant people if they are infected. It’s also especially dangerous for small infants, and babies can’t be vaccinated until 6 months old. Therefore, while CDC recommends flu vaccines for everyone, pregnant women are an especially high priority. We strongly recommend this vaccine.
Again, we recommend that family members and others who will be in contact with the baby also be vaccinated, to minimize the risk of exposure. A new flu shot is needed every year, because the flu strains change.
The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu, although it can temporarily cause some aching or a low-grade temperature due to activation of the immune system.
Latest Vaccine News
A recent study demonstrated the effectiveness of Tdap vaccination during pregnancy. It found that vaccination was 77% effective at preventing infants from pertussis, and 90% effective at avoiding pertussis cases so severe the babies needed hospitalization.
This year (2017-2018), every approved flu vaccine on the market is appropriate for pregnant women. (The nasal mist vaccine, which is a live virus, should not be used in pregnancy, but it is not recommended for anyone this year.) You can get the flu vaccine anytime during pregnancy, and it’s best to get it as early in the season as you can.
There have been recent articles about a small study suggesting that women who had flu shots two years in a row might have a higher risk of miscarriage in the weeks after the shot. Previous studies showed no link between flu shots and miscarriage. This study was not large or strong enough to make any definitive conclusions, and ACOG, the CDC, and even the study’s authors agree that pregnant women should still be vaccinated against the flu. Of course, we are happy to talk with you about your individual situation and help you make a decision about the best timing of your flu shot.