Fast-approaching flu season has us thinking about vaccines–and some common immunization misconceptions. There’s a lot of confusion regarding getting vaccinated during pregnancy, so we’re giving you a quick breakdown of what you can expect when it comes to vaccinations and pregnancy.
Many infectious diseases can be harmful to your health–even life-threatening– and vaccinations are designed to protect you (and others). This means they’re particularly important when you’re expecting, as pregnancy slightly weakens the immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections and complications.
You’re probably sick of hearing the word “antibodies” by now, but they’re an essential component of immunity! By making antibodies, your immune system is able to protect you from infection from a virus. If you’re exposed to it later on, your body already knows how to fight it off.
But the protection doesn’t stop there. Once you’re pregnant, you’ll be sharing everything with baby–including your immunity. Considering most babies don’t get many of their vaccinations until they’re a few months old, vaccinations are an essential component of protecting both yourself and your baby.
Before you get pregnant
Certain vaccinations are safe during pregnancy, but since pregnancy suppresses the immune system, you should avoid ones that contain a live virus. Because the live virus poses a potential risk to a developing fetus, you’ll need to make sure you’re up to date on these vaccines before you start trying to conceive.
Live vaccines are made from weakened bacteria or viruses and generally give long-lasting immunity. One live vaccine recommended before pregnancy is the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella). If you don’t have it already, you should aim to get it as soon as possible. You probably got this vaccine as a child, but you may need a booster shot to increase your immunity. You can ask your doctor for a blood test to see if you’re still immune or need a booster shot. It’s best to get this vaccine at least 4-6 weeks before to ensure safe prenatal immunity. But if you end up getting pregnant within this window, don’t worry too much–there are no reports of fetal harm coming from an early MMR vaccine exposure.
Throughout your pregnancy, your OB/GYN will routinely check your Rubella status, as this particular disease can increase your risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and certain birth defects.
Additional vaccinations to bring up with your doctor (depending on your individual circumstances) include Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Chickenpox (Varicella), and pneumococcal vaccines.
During your pregnancy
Have you booked your annual flu shot yet? A 2018 study found that the vaccine reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of hospitalization from the flu by about 40 percent–but unfortunately, the CDC estimates only about half of pregnant women get the flu shot each year.
The flu vaccine is inactivated. This means it’s made from a dead virus and it’s safe to get during pregnancy (however, the nasal spray is made from live virus and is not safe during pregnancy). It’s highly recommended women get vaccinated during any trimester because the flu is more likely to cause severe illness or hospitalization when the immune system is suppressed.
Once you’re pregnant, you’ll be sharing everything with baby–including your immunity.
Some people feel as if they get the flu from the vaccine, but since the virus is completely dead, you don’t have to worry about this happening. If you feel flu-like symptoms after a flu vaccine, there might be a couple of reasons why–such as a side effect from your immune system producing antibodies, another illness like the common cold, or even a different flu strain.
However, it does take about 2 weeks to build up immunity after getting the flu shot, so it’s possible you could contract the virus before this. Flu shots are usually available around August through March depending on your region, but it’s a good idea to get this as soon as you can in order to protect you and your baby for the upcoming flu season (because remember–you’re passing along your immunity to baby!).
Another inactivated vaccine recommended during pregnancy is the Tdap vaccine–for protection against Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (aka Whooping Cough). This is an incredibly important vaccine as Whooping Cough is a very serious condition in newborns and can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, and in some rare cases can be life-threatening.
Despite the name, it doesn’t always cause a cough and may not be easily detected until it’s too late. That’s why this vaccine is usually given during the third trimester of pregnancy, to ensure your baby will be protected during their most vulnerable times: delivery and early infancy.
In addition, anyone who might be in close contact with your baby, such as childcare providers or family members should have the Tdap vaccine as well.
Additional vaccinations to consider and discuss with your doctor: Depending on your individual circumstances, your doctor may also recommend Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and pneumococcal vaccines during pregnancy.
After you’ve given birth
Once you’ve given birth, you’ll be able to catch up on any vaccinations you couldn’t get before or during your pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about any vaccines you may have missed or need based on your current circumstances with your newborn baby. But make sure to tell them whether or not you’re breastfeeding–most vaccinations are safe during this time, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.
In each of these stages, your doctor may advise you differently or have other vaccines they recommended based on your individual needs. If you’re planning on traveling at all during this time, make sure you tell your doctor in advance. This way you can get any necessary vaccinations needed to keep you and your baby safe.
As always, make sure to speak to your primary care doctor about any concerns you have before, during, and after pregnancy. Stay healthy, and we encourage you to get your flu shot this autumn!
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