Immunisation against influenza and whooping cough is important to help protect you and your unborn baby, and to pass your protection to your baby after they are born.
Immunisation against influenza and whooping cough during pregnancy is recommended by the Ministry of Health, and free (influenza immunisation is free for pregnant women during the influenza season, usually early March to the end of July). Talk to your doctor or practice nurse, or your midwife to find out how to protect you and your child.
Mothers pass some of their immunity along to their babies during pregnancy. This provides some protection to newborn babies during the first few weeks of life until they are able to be immunised.
You can watch a video about immunisation during pregnancy here:
Influenza during pregnancy can harm you and your unborn baby. Women who catch influenza during pregnancy have higher rates of general pregnancy complications, including premature birth, stillbirth, and babies who are small for gestational age. New Zealand research shows that healthy pregnant women are nearly five times more likely to be admitted to hospital when suffering from influenza complications than women who are not pregnant.
Influenza immunisation is safe given during any stage of pregnancy. There is no increased risk of reactions to the vaccine for pregnant women and you cannot get the flu from being immunised. The influenza vaccine will not harm your unborn baby. The vaccine simply stimulates your own immune system to make antibodies that can fight off the virus.
The good news is that once you have immunity, you can also pass it on to your baby naturally, which has been shown to decrease the chances of your newborn getting the flu. Newborns and young infants have higher rates of influenza and hospitalisation than other children, so the protection they receive from you in the womb could make all the difference.
For more information about influenza immunisation, see the Fight Flu website.
Whooping cough (pertussis)
Being immunised against whooping cough while you are pregnant can protect your baby until they are old enough to be immunised, because your immunity can be passed on to your baby before they are born.
Whooping cough spreads very easily through coughing and sneezing. It can cause severe, prolonged coughing attacks and may lead to serious complications like pneumonia and brain damage. It is worse for babies under 1 year of age. They are often unable to feed or breathe properly so can become very ill, and may need to be cared for in hospital.
In New Zealand, babies are immunised against whooping cough at ages 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months, then again at ages 4 and 11 years. They are not well protected from whooping cough until they have had their first three doses.
Unlike some other infectious diseases and immunisations, immunity to whooping cough decreases over time. This means that adults can catch whooping cough even if they have been immunised in the past or have previously had the disease. Many babies catch whooping cough from their older siblings or parents, often before they are old enough to be immunised.
Whooping cough immunisation is recommended and free for pregnant women between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy. Being immunised while you are pregnant can provide added protection for your baby. The whooping cough vaccine is safe for use in pregnancy.
The Ministry of Health recommends that other adults in close contact with babies should also be immunised against whooping cough. However, this is not free.
It is safe to be immunised right after giving birth, even if you are breastfeeding. You can catch up on any immunisations you’ve missed out on during pregnancy – these immunisations are no longer free after you’ve given birth, but are still useful as they reduce the chance of you catching a disease and passing it on to your baby. You can also catch up on any other immunisations you need, such as MMR, that were not recommended while you were pregnant.
Pregnancy is a good time to learn about childhood immunisations. Parents-to-be can learn more about childhood immunisation from the booklets “Childhood Immunisation” and “Immunise Your Child On Time”. It’s also a good time to think about choosing a doctor for your baby – babies should be enrolled in a general practice as soon as they are born, so that they can be ready to start their immunisations at 6 weeks. For more information, see Visiting a doctor.
For more information about immunisation, talk to your midwife, family doctor or practice nurse.