5 Facts on Vaccines and Pregnancy
Getting vaccinated against flu and other contagious illnesses is one of the most powerful ways a woman can protect herself and her baby, before and after it’s born. Still, many women worry about vaccines’ safety and effectiveness. UR Medicine pregnancy specialist Dr. Lisa Gray shares facts about pregnancy and vaccinations.
- It’s part of a smart prenatal plan. Just like taking vitamins, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding alcohol, vaccinations should be part of your prenatal regimen. They protect your baby from potentially fatal birth complications and postpartum illnesses, and they are safe to get before, during, and after pregnancy. Most vaccines—and all given to pregnant women—are made from inactive viruses that cannot cause the illness they are designed to prevent. There is no reputable data that vaccines cause developmental disorders like autism. But there are risks for your baby if you become ill with a vaccine-preventable disease. For example, getting rubella during pregnancy increases your risk for miscarriage and stillbirth, as well as severe birth defects for your baby.
- It protects when you need it most. Being pregnant is a physical challenge in itself. Your guard against contagious illness is down because pregnancy suppresses your immune system so as not to attack the “foreign” entity in your body. Symptoms like morning sickness, sleep problems, and extreme fatigue may also weaken your resistance. Pregnancy also puts extra stress on your heart and breathing. Vaccines can help you avoid having to manage flu, measles, mumps, rubella, or a host of other illnesses during pregnancy. Flu is especially dangerous in pregnancy, raising the odds of hospitalization, premature birth or other complications, and the likelihood of losing a baby. It’s not 100 percent effective against all strains of flu, but vaccination is your best chance to avoid these risks. And if you do get the flu, the vaccine helps lessens its symptoms.
- It helps your baby now and later. When you’re up-to-date on vaccinations, your baby gains protection from diseases that can cause birth defects. Your body develops antibodies to the diseases, which cross the placenta and boost baby’s developing immune system. For example, getting a vaccine like Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) during pregnancy jump-starts your baby’s immune system to protect it after it is born. This is important for a newborn baby, who has not been exposed to the host of infectious diseases that we worry about, and it gives them a head start on building antibodies before they can get vaccines.
- It has a proven track record. Many are skeptical that vaccines make a difference, but the numbers tell a different story. In fact, vaccination has reversed the tide of many infectious diseases. Once the measles vaccine went into widespread use, cases in the U.S. plummeted from a high of 800,000 a year to 22,000 by 1968; by 1998, cases averaged about 100 per year or less. Before the chickenpox vaccine was introduced in 1995, there were about 4 million cases a year. By 2004, the disease dropped by about 85 percent.
- It’s all about timing. There are vaccines you should get before you become pregnant, and some that you should get during your pregnancy. Before pregnancy: The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine should be given a month or more before you get pregnant to protect your future baby from birth defects. During pregnancy: The Tdap vaccine (to help protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, also called whooping cough) should be given at each pregnancy to boost the baby’s immune response to these diseases. Whooping cough is a particular concern, as it’s easily spread and can be fatal to a baby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting the Tdap vaccine between 27-36 weeks, but a new study suggests the best opportunity is between 27 and 30 weeks. Anytime: Other vaccines, like the flu shot, should be given before or during pregnancy, if possible. If you miss the window of opportunity, getting a flu shot after your baby is born is still a good way to protect both of you. It’s safe to get vaccines while you are breastfeeding.
You certainly have many things to think about, and do, during your pregnancy. Fortunately, vaccination is a quick and easy step that pays big rewards for you and your child. If you are planning to become pregnant or are expecting, be sure to discuss vaccination with your health care professional.
Lisa M. Gray, M.D., is a maternal-fetal specialist who specializes in high-risk pregnancy, and an assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at URMC.
Lori Barrette |