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5 Things Expectant Parents Need to Know About Vaccines in Pregnancy

August 10, 2017 1 comment

The more we learn about fetal development, the more advice women seem to get on what to do, and what to avoid, while pregnant.  Of course, all this information can be overwhelming, especially when preparing for the arrival of your first child.  While well-meaning friends and family will provide a constant stream of advice, expectant couples should rely on credible medical sources such as the CDC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the American College of Nurse Midwives.   

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Here are 5 things these organizations say about the flu and Tdap vaccines routinely recommended during pregnancy:

1) Maternal vaccine recommendations serve a dual purpose.  

The first reason is to protect the mother.  Changes in a woman’s immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make her more likely to get ill and suffer severe complications from illnesses as compared to non-pregnant women.  In fact, a pregnant woman is five times as likely to suffer complications or death from flu compared to non-pregnant women.  Additionally, if a woman should fall ill during pregnancy, she has a greater chance of hospitalization, spontaneous abortion or complications that can directly impact the health of her baby such as preterm labor and delivery, and low birth weight babies.

The second reason is to protect the baby.  If a woman becomes sick before, during, or even shortly after delivery, she can easily pass a disease on to her baby.  New moms spend a great deal of time in close proximity to their newborn babies, so it is understandable that they might share infections. But infections like flu and pertussis, also known as whooping cough, are not just a threat to a new mother.  They can also be extremely dangerous, and even deadly, to young children.

2) Vaccination timing is important.  

Getting vaccinated during each pregnancy (as opposed to before or after) enables a woman to pass on protective antibodies to her developing baby that can then provide short-term protection against flu and pertussis until the baby is old enough to get their own vaccines.  

The best time for a pregnant woman to get a Tdap vaccine is between 27 and 36 weeks of each pregnancy, with the earlier part of this time period being most preferable.  This preferred vaccination window is based on studies of the cord blood of babies whose mothers received Tdap vaccine in pregnancy and the associated levels of pertussis antibodies detected in that cord blood.  Often times, adults are unaware that they have a pertussis infection, which is why the infection can easily be passed on to babies.  Babies are especially vulnerable to the disease because they only begin getting their own DTaP vaccination to prevent pertussis at 2 months of age.  But even then, they need an additional four doses at 4 months, between 6-9 months, between 12-15 months and again between age 4-5 before they are fully immunized.  The antibodies they receive from their mother helps protect them in those early months after birth.

An inactivated flu shot is recommended for pregnant women at any trimester of each pregnancy.  However, the best time to get a flu vaccine is before the season begins, so that the mother, who herself is at great risk of flu complications, is fully protected before flu activity begins to elevate in her community.  . Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu virus infection, it is best for pregnant women to get vaccinated by the end of October, if possible.  Unfortunately, flu vaccines are not recommended until a child is 6 months of age, which is why the protection a child gets from his or her mother is critical to keeping that child flu-free until they can receive their own vaccine.

3) Maternal vaccines protect against two serious illnesses; whooping cough and flu.

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