What 86% of Pregnant Women Aren't Doing (but should)

They're not getting a Tdap vaccine, protecting against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. It's crucial for women to get the vaccine while pregnant (during every pregnancy, in fact) between 27 and 36 weeks, according to the CDC. But during a March of Dimes event last week about the return of vaccine-preventable diseases, one infectious-disease expert shared that only 14% of pregnant women are getting the vaccine. Why is this so worrisome? Because babies are highly vulnerable to pertussis (also known as whooping cough), a disease that can be deadly. In fact, in 2012, when whooping cough cases were reported at the highest rate since 1955, infants were affected--and died--more than any other age group. The only person who can truly protect them? Their mom, before they're even born.

Babies' risk of pertussis dramatically decreases once they've received all three doses of the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine, by 6 months. Until then, they're susceptible to a condition that can leave infants coughing so hard they struggle to breathe, and/or make a painful "whoop" sound. Sounds Of Pertussis has an audio clip of a baby with whooping cough that's downright scary, but I urge you to listen so you can recognize the sound.

If you're pregnant and your doctor hasn't brought up getting Tdap yet, please ask. And there's one more big thing you should do (I know--like you don't have enough to think about as it is!): Make sure that all of the adults who will be around your baby gets their Tdap shot, too. When researchers can pinpoint how a baby got whooping cough, the answer is the same in 80% of cases: from someone at home. This could be you, your partner, your caregiver, your in-laws, your parents, your sister... you get it. Chances are, at some point in your pregnancy, every one of these people will ask you if there's anything they can do for you. Here's your answer! And of course, any siblings, cousins, or other kids who will come in contact with your child should be up to date on their DTaP vaccines, too.

Image via Shutterstock

Kara Corridan is the health director at Parents, and a mom of two daughters, 9 and 6. When she was pregnant, the Tdap recommendation wasn't in effect, so she feels especially fortunate that her children didn't get pertussis.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a bacterial respiratory infection that might look like a cold at first. Learn more about the symptoms of this serious condition and when you should worry.

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