Did you know babies receive disease immunity from their mothers during pregnancy? During the last three months of pregnancy, antibodies from the mother are passed to her unborn baby through the placenta.
This type of immunity is called passive immunity, because the baby has been given antibodies rather than making them itself. Antibodies are special proteins the immune system produces to help protect the body against bacteria and viruses. The amount and type of antibodies passed to the baby depend on the mother’s immunity.
Immunity in newborn babies is only temporary and starts to decrease after the first few weeks or months. Breast milk also contains antibodies, which means that babies who are breastfed have passive immunity for longer. The thick, yellowish milk (colostrum) produced for the first few days following birth is particularly rich in antibodies. Premature babies are at higher risk of developing an illness because their immune systems are not as strong and they haven’t had as many antibodies passed to them from their mothers.
So to keep your newborn as healthy as possible, it is important to make sure you are current on your immunizations before you get pregnant. But is it also safe for moms-to-be to get vaccines while they are pregnant?
It depends on the type of vaccine you’re considering. Doctors recommend that pregnant women not get vaccines that use live, attenuated (weakened) viruses. But doctors do strongly recommend that moms-to-be get some vaccines in order to pass immunity onto their babies. We break it down for you below.
Vaccines recommended before pregnancy
Make sure you are current on all routine adult vaccinations before you get pregnant.
Vaccines recommended during pregnancy
During flu season, receive the inactivated flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is recommended because pregnant women are seven times more likely to come down with a severe and even fatal case of the flu than women of the same age who aren’t pregnant. Pregnant women who get the flu are at risk for serious complications and hospitalization and have a greater chance for serious problems including premature labor. This vaccine should be given during the first or second trimester of pregnancy.
Receive the Tdap vaccine (adult tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine) during each pregnancy — even if you’ve had the shot before pregnancy. Ideally, the best time for this vaccination is between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy, because at that stage your body produces pertussis antibodies that you can pass on through the placenta to your unborn child. These antibodies from their moms save newborn babies who are too young to get the vaccine. Every year in the U.S., between 20 and 30 babies die from whooping cough, almost all of them younger than two months — the age at which babies themselves receive their first Tdap shot.
Both vaccines have excellent safety records.
Vaccines not recommended during pregnancy
Theoretically, the MMR vaccine, since it is a live vaccine, could lead to measles, mumps or rubella infection in a pregnant woman, but studies have yet to prove that in real life. While some studies also show these infections can raise the risk of birth defects, this has also not been proven in widespread studies. Finally, there is also some concern about a possible link between these infections and miscarriage. Again, the risk of contracting measles, mumps or rubella from a vaccine is theoretical, but to be safe, it’s best to avoid this vaccine during pregnancy.
The chicken pox vaccine is also made from live, attenuated virus so it’s best to avoid it during pregnancy.
Vaccines recommended after pregnancy
Vaccines are safe for new mothers after giving birth, even while breastfeeding. Here are key vaccinations doctors recommend.
- New mothers who did not receive Tdap should be vaccinated right after delivery.
- Women not immune to measles, mumps or rubella should receive that vaccination before leaving the hospital.
- Women not immune to chicken pox should also receive that vaccination before leaving the hospital.
Vaccinations are offered at all INTEGRIS pharmacies. To find one close to you, here is a list.