Although our family is now complete, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t reminisce about the baby stage. As a mother who has ‘been there done that’ when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, I’ve seen plenty of questions thrown around about what mothers would do differently. I guess with many things in life, we’d do things differently because, through experience, we gain knowledge and a better way of doing things. For me, one of the things I’d do differently was to have the proper vaccination in pregnancy. I was vaccinated for whooping cough, but I wasn’t vaccinated for influenza during both pregnancies. I took a huge risk but I didn’t know I was doing so at the time.
I vividly remember during my first pregnancy in 2011, arranging influenza shots for all the staff at my then employer, but I chose not to get the influenza vaccination myself, for fear that it was not safe to take during pregnancy. I don’t recall how I came to that decision, but I do remember that I was convinced it wasn’t safe or required.
Years on, I realise my decision not to vaccinate was purely based on being ill-informed. I think if I had read the statistics I share with you in this article, I would have rolled my sleeve up for a flu shot quick smart. In hindsight, I feel very fortunate that I avoided a traumatic pregnancy and had healthy children given I wasn’t fully immunised, particularly when one of my babies was born smack bang in the middle of flu season.
So, here’s what I know now, essential vaccination information for anyone pregnant, looking to fall pregnant, or are friends and family members of someone who is pregnant. Please share!
What you need to know about the whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy
Whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy
Although whooping cough (otherwise known as pertussis) can show mild symptoms in adults, it is a highly contagious bacterial disease that can cause life-threatening bouts of coughing in a baby. The infection can be passed onto a baby who isn’t yet vaccinated; babies are only able to receive their own vaccination at 6 weeks of age.
When to do whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy
Vaccination for whooping cough during pregnancy is preferably performed at 28-32 weeks; otherwise, it can be given at any time during the third trimester. This gives enough time for the mother’s body to produce antibodies that get passed onto the baby before they are born, protecting them until they have their own vaccination. If you’re unsure about anything to do with the vaccine, speak to your GP, obstetrician or midwife.
Do you need whooping cough vaccine in each pregnancy?
The immunity you get from the whooping cough vaccine declines over time, so you need to be vaccinated during each pregnancy.
Is whooping cough vaccine safe in pregnancy?
Studies of more than 40,000 pregnant women in the US and UK have found the pertussis vaccination to be safe and effective for mother and baby. The studies found only mild pertussis vaccine side effects in pregnancy including pain or redness on the arm where the vaccination was delivered. Studies show no increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes (such as stillbirth, foetal distress or low birth weight) related to pertussis vaccination during pregnancy. (Munoz FM. et al. 2014)
Who else needs to have the whooping cough vaccine?
Family and friends who will be close to your baby in the first weeks should also receive the whooping cough vaccine, this also includes your other children.
What you need to know about the influenza vaccination in pregnancy
Influenza vaccine in pregnancy
To put it into perspective, in 2009, 5% of influenza deaths were in pregnant women despite them only representing 1% of the population. Influenza can affect a pregnant woman severely in the second and third trimesters. It can affect the baby in the few months after birth and can even cause death because a baby cannot receive the influenza vaccination until they are 6 months old.
Pregnant women who contract influenza have double the risk of foetal death, likely because the immune system is naturally suppressed during pregnancy, increasing the chances of contracting a disease like influenza. The risk of stillbirth, premature birth and suboptimal foetal growth is also increased. The influenza vaccine protects against these three risks, and the antibodies are passed to the baby from the mother to offer protection until they’re old enough to be immunised.
When to do influenza vaccine in pregnancy
The influenza vaccine can be given at any stage during pregnancy. Where possible, try to time your vaccination so you end up having the highest level of protection during peak flu season from June to September, particularly if this is when you are in your second or third trimesters. If you vaccinate from April, this should give you adequate protection before this peak season starts. Optimal protection usually happens within the first 3 to 4 months after vaccination. If you’re unsure when to have your flu vaccine, speak to your GP, obstetrician or midwife.
Do you need influenza vaccine in each pregnancy?
Yes. You should get an influenza vaccination each year because every year there is a different strain of influenza. In February and September each year, The World Health Organisation holds a conference with leading influenza experts to discuss and make recommendations on the composition of next season’s flu vaccine.
Is influenza vaccine safe in pregnancy?
As with the whooping cough vaccine, there are minimal side effects including pain and redness where the vaccination was administered and the possibility of a mild fever. All vaccines in Australia are monitored via the AusVaxSafety program and must pass strict vaccine testing.
Multiple studies show that the influenza vaccine at any stage of pregnancy is associated with a 20% reduction in risk of stillbirth (Zhang C et al 2017). A study of more than 34,000 pregnant women carried out in Western Australia found that women who received the influenza vaccine during their pregnancy had significantly fewer visits to an emergency department and fewer hospitalisations for respiratory illness (Regan, AK et al. 2016).
Another study, which randomised women to receive or not receive influenza vaccine during pregnancy, found a 36% reduction in the rate of respiratory illness with fever in the vaccinated group (95%CI 4-57), in addition to benefits for their babies (Zaman K et al. 2008).
Lastly, many extensive studies have been conducted and confirm that vaccinations do not cause autism.
Who else needs to have the influenza vaccine?
Everyone who comes in contact with mother and baby, including friends, family and siblings, should have the influenza vaccine.
Are whooping cough and influenza vaccinations free?
Both whooping cough and influenza vaccines are nationally approved, safe for mum and baby and free of charge under the National Immunisation Program.
Where can I get my vaccinations?
Each state offers free whooping cough and influenza vaccinations under the National Immunisation Program. Depending on where you live, you can access these at your GP, community health centres, local councils and immunisation clinics. Click here to find your closest provider.
There will also be free vaccination days held in Melbourne. Please book in advance.
In reflection, I really didn’t do my due diligence in researching the influenza vaccination during both my pregnancies. My doctors probably should have said something too. But, luck was on our side. This information is my way to pay it forward, to provide women who are pregnant or looking to fall pregnant with the information that I didn’t have.
Wishing you or your loved ones a healthy pregnancy.
- Immunisation Coalition
- The World Health Organisation
- Safety and Immunogenicity of Tetanus Diphtheria and Acellular Pertussis (Tdap) Immunization During Pregnancy in Mothers and InfantsA Randomized Clinical Trial. Munoz, FM et al (2014).
- Effectiveness of seasonal trivalent influenza vaccination against hospital-attended acute respiratory infections in pregnant women: A retrospective cohort study. Regan, A.K. Klerk N.D. et al. (2016).
- Effectiveness of maternal influenza immunization in mothers and infants. Zaman, K. Arifeen S.E. et al (2008).
- A systematic review and meta-analysis of fetal outcomes following the administration of influenza A/H1N1 vaccination during pregnancy. Zhang, C. et al. (2017)
- Australian Government Department of Health – Immunisation
- Queensland Health – 2019 Influenza Vaccination Guidelines
Disclosure: This blog post is part of a sponsored campaign in collaboration with Brand Meets Blog.
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