It is not just your baby that needs to be vaccinated once he or she is born, but there are also some vaccinations that are important for you to get both before and during pregnancy. The most important vaccines that you should consider getting are the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (also known as MMR) and the Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (also known as Tdap), as well as the flu shot. You might have been vaccinated with the first two in childhood but, often, immunity to the vaccine-targeted disease is reduced over time and, thus, you might need a booster. This is an important topic to discuss with your primary care doctor or obstetrician.
The MMR vaccine
The MMR vaccine has gotten a bad rap over the years due to some dubious research that was carried out in the late 1990s. However, this vaccine is both safe and effective and is very important for women to get if they are planning a pregnancy. The main protection it provides you is against rubella infection (also known as German measles). Rubella can have many harmful effects on your unborn child, such as:
- Hearing loss
- Brain damage
- Heart defects
Rubella is particularly dangerous during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and, if you become infected during this period, there is no known treatment for it. If you are not already vaccinated against MMR, the best time to get the shot is at least one month before you become pregnant as the vaccine can also be harmful to your baby. For the same reason, you shouldn’t get the MMR vaccination when you are pregnant.
The Tdap vaccine
The main reason to get the Tdap vaccine when you are pregnant is for protection against pertussis infection. Pertussis is also known as whooping cough, due to the characteristic wheezing that is associated with it. Unlike the MMR vaccine, the Tdap vaccine is safe to get in pregnancy. Ideally you should get it between weeks 27 and 36 of your pregnancy in order for the pertussis antibodies to be passed on to your child. Developing whooping cough is a serious situation for anybody but, for your baby, who can’t receive the shot until they are at least 2 months old, it can be life-threatening. About half of all babies, in particular very young oness, who get whooping cough end up in the hospital and up to 20 babies in the US die from it each year.
Influenza can cause mild or unpleasant symptoms in younger healthy people. However, it can have severe effects and even be deadly for some groups of people, including the elderly and babies in the womb.
If you are pregnant, getting the flu vaccine will reduce your risk of having a miscarriage or your baby’s risk of being born with low birth weight or prematurely. Influenza infections have even been linked with stillbirth. In a study conducted in Australia, researchers analyzed data from nearly 60,000 births that occurred during the southern hemisphere’s flu season and they found that women who received the trivalent influenza vaccine during pregnancy were 51% less likely to experience a stillbirth, compared with unvaccinated mothers. Similar outcomes have been found in other studies.
The best time to get the flu shot when you are pregnant is before the start of the flu season. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend getting vaccinated by the end of October.
So, what are you waiting for? Go out there and get vaccinated!