Vaccines can help protect against diseases that can complicate pregnancy and harm both an expectant mother and her developing baby. If you were born in the United States, chances are you received vaccinations as a child, but that immunity does not last forever. In most cases, receiving a booster shot as an adult will help you stay protected.
You may need protection while you’re pregnant. Read on for guidelines on vaccination during pregnancy from the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If pregnancy is in your future, schedule a visit with your healthcare provider at least a month before you start trying to conceive, to review your health history, any medical conditions and current medications.
This is visit is an ideal time to discuss immunizations, including which shots might be necessary now if you’re planning to travel when pregnant. Your provider may recommend a blood test to check for immunity to certain conditions if you do not have an immunization record or if it has been a while since you received any immunizations.
You can also get shots beforehand that are not recommended during pregnancy, such as MMR, HPV, Hepatitis, Varicella and Zoster. Also, talk to your provider about receiving a rubella vaccine. Rubella can cause serious complications to a developing baby.
Immunization for Expectant Moms
It is safe to receive some vaccines during pregnancy. Medical experts have studied getting flu and whooping cough shots carefully, and found the vaccines to be safe. The CDC recommends having a whooping cough shot — tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (TDAP) — between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy, but you can receive the vaccine any time while pregnant. This important shot protects you against tetanus and diphtheria in addition to whooping cough, also known as pertussis. It also helps you pass on this immunity to your baby, who will be protected during first few weeks of life.
For an expectant mom, the flu also can have serious side effects, due to changes in the immune system and heart and lung function during pregnancy. The flu is also dangerous for a developing baby, as it can cause early labor and premature delivery. The CDC recommends receiving a flu shot during any month of pregnancy to avoid potential complications.
Vaccinations and Travel
Yellow fever, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, malaria, anthrax and tuberculosis are more common in some parts of the world, and your provider can recommend certain shots for you based on your destination. Check with your provider before making travel plans during pregnancy for a complete list of medical conditions more common in the areas you will be visiting.
If you are planning to travel to areas at high risk for yellow fever, you should ideally get the shot a month or more before trying to get pregnant. If travel is unavoidable during pregnancy, the yellow fever vaccine can be used after discussing its risks and benefits with your provider. Rabies shots can be used if you are exposed in high-risk areas. You can also talk to your provider to see if you qualify for the vaccine before traveling while pregnant. Similarly, hepatitis A and B and meningitis shots can be received after your provider does a risk-verses-benefit analysis for you.
Malaria can cause severe complications for both an expectant mom and her baby, including pregnancy loss. No medication is 100-percent effective in preventing malaria, so the standard recommendation is to avoid travel to high-risk areas. If travel is unavoidable, talk to your provider about prescribing medicines such as chloroquine or mefloquine, based on your health situation.
The BCG shot to prevent tuberculosis should not be given in pregnancy, but the anthrax vaccine can be given if there has been definite exposure to anthrax spores.
The CDC still does not have data to make any recommendations regarding the typhoid vaccine in pregnancy, but the guideline is to avoid typhoid vaccine pills and talk to your provider about the typhoid shot, if needed.
Zika is a serious health concern for most pregnant women, and there is still no vaccine or medicine to cure it. Prevention is key against Zika, so check the CDC Zika advisory prior to traveling, and discuss with your provider the best strategies to prevent Zika if travel to any high-risk area is unavoidable.
Pregnancy is a very special time in your life. Enjoy getting yourself and your family ready for your new little one. Take good care of yourself, your developing baby, your partner and your family. Let vaccination be your best help in avoiding serious health conditions.
Night Ahmed, MD, is on the faculty of Florida State University College of Medicine Clinical Learning Center and practices at Patients First Medical Center, Tallahassee, FL.