Vaccinations for Parents

pregnant woman consulting with doctor
When it comes to keeping baby healthy, experts say one of the most important things a mom and dad can do is make sure they're up-to-date on their shots.
Blend Images/ Veer
Blend Images/ Veer

Why do parents need to be vaccinated?

No one likes being poked in the arm with a needle, but when it comes to keeping your newborn healthy, that's just what doctors and health experts recommend -- for parents. "In addition to the direct benefit of preventing birth defects in the fetus and illness in the pregnant woman, vaccination protects against infection with bacteria or viruses by stimulating the body's immune system to produce antibodies that in many cases are protective," says C. Mary Healy, M.D., director of vaccinology and maternal immunization for the Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research at Texas Children's Hospital. "A newborn baby's immune system is not mature or developed enough to produce these antibodies in the first few weeks to months of life. Antibodies from the mother are transferred to the fetus while still in the womb."

Dad needs to get in on the act, too. Most newborns that come down with illnesses such as whooping cough and flu catch it from someone inside the home. "It's important for anyone coming into contact with a child six months and younger to be vaccinated against these conditions," says Dr. Healy.

The best time for Mom to get vaccinated is before conception. If you've already missed that time frame, consult with your OB before getting any vaccination. If you decide to wait, be sure to get protected soon after you give birth.

Buff Strickland
Buff Strickland

Vaccination and breastfeeding

Moms who choose to breastfeed might be worried about getting vaccinated for these conditions, but it's perfectly safe. "Breastfeeding is not a contraindication or precaution to vaccination," says Dr. Healy. "On the contrary, antibodies against vaccine preventable diseases have been discovered in breast milk collected from women vaccinated during and after pregnancy."

According to the CDC, though, the only vaccination that hasn't been thoroughly researched for breastfeeding moms is the Hepatitis A vaccine (which is not necessary for all women). And while it is unlikely that the vaccine would have any negative effects on breastfed babies, the CDC recommends that doctors consider administering immune globulin (an antibody) rather than the vaccine.

Of course, consult with your doctor and your child's pediatrician if you're hesitant to receive a vaccine while breastfeeding.

Onoky Photography/Veer
Onoky Photography/Veer

Whooping Cough

Pertussis -- also known as whooping cough -- is an infection of the respiratory system caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Although some teens and adults might come down with it and simply think they have a persistent cough, the illness is a serious problem for babies six months and younger before they're fully protected through immunization. In severe cases, pertussis can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain infection and even death (mainly in babies three months and younger). According to Dr. Healy, two-thirds of babies that come down with pertussis require hospitalization. "Most of the time, we find that the child has caught whooping cough from someone in the house," she says.

And in recent years, the number of cases has started to rise. The CDC recently reported the highest number of cases in nearly 40 years, and California experienced a statewide epidemic last year. Parents of newborns should receive the TdaP booster (tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis) protect their babies. It protects against whooping cough, as well as tetanus and diphtheria.

While expectant fathers can get the shot at any time, pregnant moms should wait until after they give birth (you should be able to request it at the hospital before you're discharged). "In cases where there is an outbreak -- like in California -- pregnant women can receive the shot. It is safe, but the CDC recommends that women wait until after giving birth if possible," explains Dr. Healy.

This is already shaping up to be a bad year for flu. Here's what you need to know to keep your family healthy. Video Courtesy of Nationwide Children's Hospital


Since 1996, the flu shot (which now includes H1N1) has been recommended for pregnant women. Unfortunately, it is reported that only about 15 percent of pregnant women get the shot each year, which can be dangerous to both the moms and babies. "Influenza has been shown to cause more severe illness in pregnant than in non-pregnant women and often leads to pneumonia, hospitalization and, rarely, death," says Dr. Healy. In addition to protecting expectant moms, the vaccine offers protection for newborns who are unable to get the shot (it is recommended for babies six months and older). "There is research that babies whose mothers were immunized during pregnancy have immunity from the flu for the first few months of life, and hospitalization rates for those babies are also significantly lower," says Bruce Hirsch, M.D., attending physician, Infectious Disease Division at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NY.

Already had your baby? You should still get vaccinated, as should your husband and all of your child's caregivers (babysitters, grandparents, etc. -- especially if your baby is younger than six months. And Dr. Hirsch points out that you need to be vaccinated each year because the vaccine is reformulated to cover that year's influenza strains.

Blend Images/Veer
Blend Images/Veer

Hepatitis A & Hepatitis B

This vaccine is for women who have risk factors for the Hepatitis A (HAV) or Hepatitis B virus (HBV) viruses. "HAV infection in pregnancy can be severe and cause miscarriage or premature delivery of the infant, while HBV during pregnancy may lead to severe illness in both mother and fetus, and ultimately can cause severe chronic illness in the newborn," says Dr. Healy. All pregnant women should undergo screening for both, and women who do not have immunity and who have a risk factor for acquiring either infection should be vaccinated.

Alexandra Rowley
Alexandra Rowley

Varicella (chickenpox)

If you didn't have chickenpox as a child, don't worry -- if you were exposed to it during your lifetime, it's possible that you already have immunity to the illness (ask your doctor for a blood test to confirm). If that isn't the case, consider getting vaccinated before you conceive (there isn't enough data yet to prove the vaccine's safety for pregnant women). Chickenpox can cause severe pneumonia in pregnant women and has caused birth defects in fetuses. Because you are being administered a live virus, this is a vaccine that you should get before becoming pregnant

MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)

All three of these illnesses can cause a problem for pregnant women and their newborns. Most of us have already been vaccinated, but if you haven't, talk to your doctor about receiving the shot -- before you become pregnant or after you deliver (this shot is a live virus, so you don't want to receive it while pregnant). Measles is suspected to increase the risk of miscarriage or premature delivery; mumps is not associated with fetal abnormalities during pregnancy, but if a pregnant woman contracts mumps in the first trimester the risk of miscarriage is higher; and rubella during pregnancy is associated with the development of a number of abnormalities in the fetus, including mental retardation, deafness and heart defects.

The MMR shot is especially important for people traveling outside of the U.S. According to the CDC, an estimated 10 million cases and 164,000 deaths from measles occur worldwide each year, and outbreaks are common in many areas, including Europe. And in 2009, there was a mumps outbreak in parts of New York and New Jersey after an 11 year-old boy returned from a trip to the United Kingdom.

Copyright &copy 2011 Meredith Corporation.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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