Many people associate vaccines with the image of a tearful mommy holding a crying infant in a doctor’s exam room. But it’s not just new babies who need vaccines to prevent them from contracting potentially deadly illnesses. Moms-to-be need certain vaccines, too, because they might be exposed to a disease that could harm their unborn child and not even realize it.
Dr. Deborah Wexler, executive director of the Immunization Action Coalition, suggests making sure your vaccinations are up-to-date before you begin trying to conceive.
“You are protecting your baby’s future, and you’re protecting your pregnancy, too,” she says.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) currently recommends prenatal screening for rubella (German measles) and hepatitis B. It also suggests a prenatal assessment for varicella (chickenpox).
Although Dr. Jeff Chapa, head of maternal-fetal medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, does not generally recommend a routine vaccine screening for all women who plan to become pregnant, he does suggest that women who work in high-risk areas such as hospitals, schools and prisons make sure their vaccinations are current before getting pregnant.
Regardless of your vaccination history, there’s one vaccine you should get annually anyway, experts say.
“For the flu, it’s important to get your vaccine every year,” says Chapa.
That’s especially true for pregnant women because they’re at higher risk for complications due to influenza. But you do want get a flu shot, not the FluMist, because the shot contains the inactivated influenza vaccine that has been determined to be safe for pregnant women.
Additionally, ACIP now recommends a pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination for women who haven’t previously been vaccinated, in the third trimester or after the 20th week of pregnancy. You can get the vaccine as part of the Tdap booster, which also provides protection against diphtheria and tetanus.
This vaccine is important because pertussis can be extremely dangerous for newborns and infants, but they cannot be vaccinated for it until at least two months of age.
“The younger the kid, the more dangerous the infection,” says Dr. Herschel Lessin, a pediatrician who co-authored a recent report on vaccinations for family members of young children for the journal Pediatrics. “They don’t have any reserves.”
What to avoid during pregnancy
According to ACIP’s recommendations, you should stay away from any vaccinations containing live or attenuated virus. That includes the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or MMR; the varicella vaccine; HPV; and zoster (shingles) vaccine. If your immunity has worn off, you can safely get an MMR vaccination after you deliver your baby, even if you are breastfeeding, Wexler says.