Essential Vaccines for Moms-to-Be

Sophie Ramsey | Oct 25, 2017

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How to keep you and your baby healthy

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Making sure you’re up to date on your vaccinations before you become pregnant — and getting two essential vaccines while you’re expecting — can help keep you and your baby healthy both during pregnancy and after.

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Why prenatal vaccines are so important

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Vaccines help protect us from serious illness. They do this by stimulating our immune system to make antibodies that fight off certain infections. When you are pregnant, some infections — such as the flu, chickenpox and measles — can be particularly severe. Certain infections can also lead to birth defects, miscarriage, or premature birth. By making sure you get the recommended vaccines, you can reduce your chance of infection — and pass on this protection to your unborn baby.

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Vaccines to get before you become pregnant, part 1

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If possible, make sure you are current on all your recommended vaccines before you become pregnant. Two that are particularly important are the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and chickenpox (varicella) vaccines. Many women will have already had these vaccines as children. Or, in the case of chickenpox, they may have already had the infection and be immune. If there is any doubt, you can have blood tests to see if you are protected against those infections.

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Vaccines to get before you become pregnant, part 2

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The MMR and chickenpox vaccines contain weakened — but not killed — strains of the viruses that cause the infections. Because of this, they are not considered safe during pregnancy. If you need these vaccines, you should get them at least a month before becoming pregnant. This will protect you and your baby from serious problems caused by those illnesses. For example, having measles, mumps or rubella in pregnancy can lead to miscarriage. And having rubella or chickenpox can cause birth defects.

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Vaccines to get while you are pregnant

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Experts recommend getting two vaccines during every pregnancy: the tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine and the influenza vaccine (flu shot) — unless you already had your annual flu shot before you became pregnant. Those vaccines are safe during pregnancy and provide important protection while your baby is developing, as well as after your baby is born.

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Tdap vaccine while pregnant, part 1

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Getting the Tdap vaccine while you’re pregnant provides your baby with potentially life-saving protection against pertussis. This illness, also known as whooping cough, can be serious for anyone who gets it, but it can be particularly dangerous for babies. As many as 20 babies in the U.S. die of whooping cough each year, and about half of babies younger than 1 year old who get the infection need to be treated in the hospital.

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Tdap vaccine while pregnant, part 2

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Babies can’t start getting their own whooping cough vaccine until they are 2 months old. By getting the Tdap vaccine while you are pregnant, your body will create antibodies against the infection and share them with your developing baby. This gives them early protection once they are born. To maximize this protection, experts recommend getting the vaccine during the 27th to 36th week of every pregnancy (during the third trimester) — and preferably in the earlier part of this period.

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Tdap vaccine while pregnant, part 3

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Research shows that getting the Tdap vaccine in the third trimester of pregnancy prevents more than three in every four cases of whooping cough in babies under 2 months old. Also, for those babies who do get whooping cough, the infection is usually less severe if their mother had the Tdap vaccine in their third trimester, with nine out of 10 babies not needing hospital treatment. The Tdap vaccine also provides protection against two other potentially serious illnesses: tetanus and diphtheria.

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The flu shot while pregnant

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Having the flu can make you seriously ill, particularly when you are pregnant. It can also increase the chance of problems for your developing baby, including premature labor and birth. Getting an annual flu shot before or during each pregnancy will lower your chance of getting the flu, while also passing protective antibodies on to your baby. A new flu shot becomes available each fall. Experts recommend getting it by the end of October for the most benefit.

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Other vaccines you may need in pregnancy

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Doctors sometimes recommend that women get additional vaccines before or during pregnancy. For example, if you have chronic (long-term) liver disease, your doctor may recommend getting the hepatitis A vaccine. Also, if you are planning to travel internationally, your doctor may recommend getting vaccines against meningococcal disease or other illnesses. Ask your doctor about any extra vaccines you may need at least four to six weeks before you leave for an international trip.

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Vaccines to get right after pregnancy

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Right after your baby is born is a good time to get caught up on certain vaccines. For example, if you still need the MMR vaccine or chickenpox vaccine, you can safely get them after you have given birth. It is fine to breastfeed after having those vaccines. In fact, some of the protective antibodies you develop from the vaccines will pass to your baby in your breast milk, giving them early protection. Your baby will also start getting some of their own vaccines soon after birth.