Routine vaccinations are considered by many new parents to be an important part of their babies' health care — and they certainly are — but what might not seem quite as obvious is that being fully vaccinated prior to and during pregnancy is just as valuable. In the same way that vaccinating an infant or child helps to protect them from contracting preventable diseases that could potentially be deadly, getting vaccinated during pregnancy helps offer important protection to both you and your baby. What vaccinations do you need before your baby is born? According to the Centers for Disease Control, in addition to ensuring that their immunizations are fully up-to-date prior to becoming pregnant if possible, there are two vaccines specifically that all pregnant women should get.
It's a good idea, of course, for all adults to ensure that they are fully immunized regardless of their desire to have children. Being vaccinated not only offers individualized protection against certain diseases, but if enough people in a community are immunized, it also protects anyone who isn't able to be fully vaccinated, like very young infants, anyone allergic to vaccines, or those who have compromised immune systems due to other conditions, like cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
For those specifically intending on becoming pregnant though, being properly vaccinated is important for another reason, too: according to the CDC, contracting a disease like rubella during pregnancy, for example, could cause a miscarriage or could lead to birth defects. Not sure of your immunization status? Ask your doctor for a pre-pregnancy blood test, which can measure your immunity. If it turns out that you haven't been vaccinated against rubella — or if you already know that you weren't — getting the MMR vaccine (aka, measles, mumps and rubella) before you get pregnant is a really good idea. The only caveat? You shouldn't get pregnant until at least one month after getting immunized for MMR, and ideally only until after your immunity has been confirmed by a blood test.
If you're already pregnant, getting immunized against pertussis (otherwise known as "whooping cough") is something you'll definitely want to consider, for a number of reasons. Firstly, whopping cough is seriously dangerous — according to the CDC, as many as 20 babies die each year in the United States as a result of the disease. And since babies have to be at least two months old before they can receive their first dose of the DtaP vaccine (which immunizes them against whooping cough, as well as diphtheria and tetanus) according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, newborn babies are particularly vulnerable to the disease. What's even worse? Whooping cough outbreaks are on the rise: according to the CDC, over 30,000 cases were reported in 2014, with the majority of deaths occurring among those less than three months old.
That's pretty scary of course, but the good news is that one of the best ways to protect your newborn from whooping cough is actually getting vaccinated for whooping cough yourself when you're pregnant. After you get vaccinated, your body responds by making protective antibodies, and if you're pregnant, your growing baby will get some of those antibodies as well. Even though the protection provided to your baby will eventually wear off, it's an important way to bridge the vulnerable gap of time between birth and your baby's own immunizations.
Beyond whooping cough and MMR, there's one other important vaccination that remains largely overlooked: the seasonal flu vaccine. Even though it's recommended that everyone get the flu vaccine each year, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that pregnant women are at a higher risk of complications from the flu compared to the general population, and should therefore ensure that they are vaccinated, ideally in the beginning of the season as soon as the vaccine becomes available.
The bonus? According to ACOG, like getting vaccinated for whooping cough, getting a flu shot while pregnant offers protection to your baby after birth too:
The flu vaccine does 'double duty' by protecting both you and your baby. Babies cannot get the flu vaccine until they are 6 months old. When you get a flu shot during pregnancy, the protective antibodies made in your body are transferred to your baby. These antibodies will protect your baby against the flu until he or she can get the vaccine at 6 months of age.
Getting vaccinated might not exactly be the first thing that comes to mind when you're getting ready to welcome a child into the world, but it's definitely not something worth ignoring. In addition to protecting you during your pregnancy, certain vaccines can also help protect your baby both while you are pregnant, as well as after birth. Even though it can feel like there is an unlimited number of things new parents have to worry about after bringing their newborn home, it's reassuring to know that preventable diseases don't have to be one of them.