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National Immunization Awareness Month – Safe Vaccines During Pregnancy

| Category: Healthy Homes / Healthy Families

Every August in the United States, we recognize National Immunization Awareness Month.  The Partnership’s Essex Metro Immunization Coalition is hosting community workshops, participating in health fairs, and posting reliable online resources to our Facebook and Twitter pages to help get the word out about vaccines.

One immunization topic that often doesn’t get enough attention is vaccines during pregnancy.   For physicians, nurses, and health educators, there is a lot of information to relay to expectant families during prenatal visits and finding ways to include vaccines in those discussions can be challenging.  For new moms and dads, they may be hearing all kinds of health advice from their doctor, family, friends, and the internet and it can be hard to separate true statistics from myths.

The truth is, the same way that what you eat and what you put into your body during pregnancy matters for the health of your baby, which vaccines you get during pregnancy matters too.  Similar to the ways in which a nutritious diet and taking prenatal vitamins during pregnancy passes along important nutrients to a growing baby, vaccines during pregnancy help mom’s immune system to pass along her protective antibodies to baby before he or she is even born.  This process is called passive immunity. This provides essential protection against diseases like whooping cough and influenza during a baby’s first few months, when they are most vulnerable to suffering serious side effects and hospitalization from these diseases.

Getting vaccinated during pregnancy also increases a mom’s chances of having a healthy pregnancy.  Pregnant women who get the flu are more likely to be hospitalized from complications than women who get the flu when they aren’t pregnant.  If you do get the flu while pregnant, make sure to contact your doctor within the first 48 hours to get antiviral medications to lessen its severity.  It’s recommended that women get a flu shot during any trimester of pregnancy to protect themselves and to provide passive immunity for their newborns, who will not be eligible to receive a flu vaccine until they turn 6 months old.  And in case you were wondering, no, you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is another deadly disease for young infants that new moms can protect them from even before birth.  Since 2010, the Centers for Disease Control sees between 10,000 and 50,000 cases of whooping cough each year in the United States.  The majority of infants who die from pertussis are under 3 months of age, before many of them were even old enough to receive their own vaccine against the disease at 2 months.  Infants mostly contract this disease from siblings or caregivers.  The disease infects the lungs, making it extremely difficult to breathe.  The recommended time to get the Tdap shot to protect against pertussis is during your 27th through 36th week of every pregnancy.

Maybe you’re not pregnant yet, but thinking you will want to start or expand your family soon.  It’s important to make sure you are up to date on other vaccines before pregnancy too.  Because of the way the MMR and Varicella vaccines are made using live viruses, they are not recommended during pregnancy.  However, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox can infect a woman during pregnancy if she is not immune and could cause her or her baby to become very sick.  For this reason, it’s recommended that women receive these vaccines before they become pregnant if they are not immune.  If you are pregnant now and have not ever received these vaccines, make sure to ask your doctor for them after delivery to help protect your newborn baby from catching these serious diseases.

As a new mom, you do everything you can to make sure your baby is as healthy as possible.  Choosing to receive the Tdap and Flu vaccines during pregnancy provides extra protection to your new baby on the way.  And to make sure your baby’s immune system stays on guard against these and other infectious diseases, make sure to take them to the pediatrician regularly for well-child checkups and to get the recommended vaccines at each visit.

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