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Pregnancy is indeed an exciting period for all the moms-to-be.
It’s understandable for mothers to feel anxious about the arrival of their babies, especially when it comes to matters related to the child’s health. Vaccination is one of the best things a mother can do to give disease immunity (protection) to her baby.
Pertussis, also known as ‘whooping cough' is a respiratory infection caused by Bordetella pertussis. It is characterized by uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe.
This image depicts a young boy who presented to a clinic suffering from what was diagnosed as pertussis. UnknownUnknown / CDC, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Pertussis can affect both the mother (adult) and the child, and it can be life-threatening for a newborn baby. It may be hard to know if a baby has whooping cough because many babies with this disease don’t cough at all. Instead, it can cause them to stop breathing and turn blue. In fact, about 7 in 10 deaths from whooping cough are among babies younger than 2 months old. These babies are too young to be protected by their own vaccination. The younger the baby is when they get whooping cough, the more likely they will need to be treated in a hospital.
Good news is, pregnant mothers are encouraged to get vaccinated against pertussis. The vaccine is known as Tdap, which contains antigens from three types of bacteria: diphtheria,tetanus and pertussis. The vaccines are given in three separate doses, and can be given to both adults and children. When the pregnant mother receives the vaccine, her body will create an army of antibodies, which some of them will be passed to the baby before birth. These antibodies will provide the baby some short-term, early protection against whooping cough.
And yes, the Tdap vaccine is safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is recommended that pregnant women receive the vaccination against pertussis between 27th to 36th week of pregnancy.
Besides ‘whooping cough’, every eligible mom-to-be is also encouraged to be vaccinated against flu (a.k.a. influenza) via injections. Getting the flu can cause serious problems for pregnant women. Even if you are generally healthy, changes in immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy makes you more likely to get severely ill from the flu. Flu can also jeopardize the baby’s health, causing issues such as pneumonia, developmental problems, and long-term conditions like asthma.
A flu shot reduced a pregnant women's risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40 percent. Pregnant women who get a flu vaccine also are helping to protect their babies from flu illness for the first several months after their birth, when they are too young to get vaccinated.
COVID-19 infection can jeopardize both the mother’s and baby’s health. According to the Ministry of Health, mRNA vaccine (Pfizer) is the preferred option of COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Other COVID-19 vaccines can be used as well, although the lack of safety data has made them a less preferred option.
Every pregnant woman has different circumstances, travel’s history, health conditions and therefore, different vaccination needs. Consult your doctor for recommendations of other vaccinations.
It’s important to note that pregnant women should NOT receive live or attenuated vaccines during pregnancy. This is due to the fear of reactivating the virus and poses risks to the baby. This is very rare in otherwise normal and healthy people. Both the Tdap and flu shot we mentioned above are not live or attenuated vaccines, and therefore are safe to use in pregnancy. There is a type of nasal flu shot that is administered through nasal spray using live attenuated technology, therefore pregnant women should not receive nasal flu shot. If you’re unsure about the suitability and safety of a vaccine, consult your doctor.
If you’re interested to read more about pregnancy, check out our previous article:
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Cover image credit: UnknownUnknown / CDC, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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