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Pertussis and Pregnancy

​Health Article



You desire to keep your baby safe while you are pregnant. You will try to stay healthy, eat a balanced diet, take your prenatal vitamins, and get plenty of rest and exercise before your baby arrives.   

But did you know that you can also protect your newborn baby from illness after delivery by making the decision during your pregnancy to get a pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine?

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Each year in the US, pertussis infections occur in over 600,000 youths and adults and accounts for nearly 3,000 infant cases.

A majority of infant pertussis cases occur during the first few months of life. Because a newborn’s immune system is still developing, they do not receive their first pertussis vaccine until two months of age.

Pertussis infection in a newborn baby may cause severe illness, including pneumonia, seizures, neurologic infection, stopped or slowed breathing, or even be fatal.

Newborn infants thus depend on using antibodies passed from the mother during pregnancy and breastfeeding to help fight off infectious disease, including pertussis. This form of protection is known as passive immunity.

Early symptoms of a pertussis infection may include a runny nose or cough, or even no symptoms at all. Thus, a parent, grandparent, sibling, or other caregiver may unknowingly expose your newborn to the pertussis bacterium.

Pertussis is spread through droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze. A majority of newborn pertussis exposures come from family members who are around the baby. In fact, medical studies have shown that 30-40% of babies who contracted pertussis infection caught it from the baby’s own mother!

The best method to minimize the risk of pertussis exposure to your newborn baby is to receive an immunization with the TDAP (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) vaccine during your pregnancy. Fathers, siblings, grandparents, and caregivers who may be near your newborn baby are also encouraged to receive an updated TDAP vaccine.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and ACOG (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recommend that all pregnant patients receive a TDAP vaccination each pregnancy during the third trimester. Medical studies and many years of experience have shown this vaccine to be safe when given during pregnancy.

The TDAP vaccine increases a mother’s production of pertussis antibodies which will then cross the placenta and reach her unborn baby. In this way, your baby will receive protective antibodies from you before your baby is born!

If you do not receive a TDAP vaccine during pregnancy, you may get one right after you deliver. This vaccine is safe for nursing and your pertussis antibodies will be passed to your baby via the breast milk.

You should not receive a TDAP vaccine if you have had a history of a severe allergic reaction or neurologic symptoms after a previous TDAP injection. You may talk to your health care provider if you have any concerns or questions in this regard.

You can make an important decision today to protect your baby from pertussis by receiving a TDAP vaccine during pregnancy.

Please feel free to talk to one of our providers if you have further questions about pertussis vaccination and your unborn baby.

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