My Wake-Up Call with Whooping Cough

Why Women Need to Get Booster Shots After Birth

After the worst was over, we were told that Caroline's case was considered mild. That sounded crazy to me. Watching her heart rate plummet and watching her turn blue was beyond terrifying. We were told that many babies with pertussis need to be fully intubated or put on full respiratory and cardiac bypass. We also learned that it would not have helped if we would have brought her in a few days before we did. This was a relief to me. Actually, it was more than a relief: It was a wake-up call that Caroline got sick for a reason and I needed to spread the word to other parents. I had had no idea that I needed a pertussis booster as an adult -- despite having two babies, at two different hospitals, in a little over two years.

First, I went in and spoke directly to the director of obstetrics at the hospital where I delivered Caroline. I told her that women should be offered the Tdap booster (for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) when they're discharged after giving birth. She agreed, though I'm not sure if policies have changed. She said that they tell patients about the booster at the 6-week postpartum checkup, but that's too late, because most infants receive their first pertussis vaccine at 6 weeks. So moms' needs to be discussed when they're pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant.

Meanwhile, an all-staff meeting was held at our pediatrician's office and, because of Caroline, they now include information about the adult booster as part of the 2-day well-baby checkup. They also bring it up at any pre-birth meet-and-greets and explain that all family members and caregivers should get the booster, too.

Caroline was discharged on August 24, nearly a month after being admitted. I expected her cough to last through October, but we heard the classic whooping sound almost until Thanksgiving -- more than 100 days. We feel blessed that our story has a positive outcome, but watching Caroline fight for her life was something I will never forget, and it has changed our lives forever.

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