The Importance of Maternal Vaccines

Pregnant woman receiving vaccine

Maternal Vaccines Protect Babies’ Health

Maternal immunizations and vaccines offer two-fold health protection throughout pregnancy. These important protectors not only safeguard pregnant women’s health against devastating communicable diseases, but also provide initial health protection and immunities against diseases that could jeopardize their developing babies’ health, even increasing their survival rate, after birth.

Vaccinations have allowed control of diseases that once threatened many lives, including:

Immunizations don’t just protect individuals. When enough people are vaccinated, it helps protect society and its health. Widespread vaccinations make it less likely for disease exposure and spread.

August is designated National Immunization Awareness Month. Your local Capital Women’s Care team wants to share the health benefits of up-to-date vaccines and immunizations for your pre-pregnancy healthcare plan; the importance of maternal immunizations during pregnancy; and the role these immunizations play in optimizing both you and your baby’s health.

Pre-Pregnancy Immunization Evaluation

The antibodies mothers develop in response to vaccines not only protect them, but also cross the placenta and help protect their babies from serious diseases early in life. Up-to-date immunizations and recommended vaccines during pregnancy also help protect a mother from getting a serious disease and passing it to her baby, both before and after baby’s birth.

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant it’s important to discuss your immunization history with your doctor, who can determine if you require vaccine updates. Ideally, it’s best to schedule this conversation at least 3 months prior to pregnancy in the event your doctor determines you require new vaccines or updated immunizations.

Some vaccines, such as the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, should be given 1 month or more before pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.) Women who plan to become pregnant should receive an MMR vaccine prior to becoming pregnant, the CDC states. These diseases, in particular rubella, can lead to serious issues, including miscarriage and birth defects.

Your healthcare provider can help you determine if you need this or any other vaccine updates through reviewing your immunization record with you and determining if you have had an adequate number of MMR vaccines. If not, or if you don’t have your immunization record, your doctor can order a blood test to evaluate your immunity and give you a booster shot if necessary.

Many women of childbearing age have either had chickenpox (varicella) or received the vaccine during childhood. Because chickenpox has potential health risks for pregnant women and their babies, assessing your immunity to chickenpox should occur before conceiving. If you’re not immune, this is a good time to get the varicella zoster virus (VZV) vaccine. Like the MMR booster, the VZV vaccine is a live-attenuated virus vaccine. You should get the VZV vaccine at least 4 weeks before attempting to conceive.

The human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) helps prevent new HPV infections and HPV-associated diseases, including cervical cancer. HPV vaccine is recommended for teens and adults through age 26, but those ages 27 through 45 years may also benefit. Discuss this with your Capital Women’s Care team. While the HPV vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy, inadvertently getting it during pregnancy is not associated with harm for you or your baby.

There are some additional vaccines to consider before trying to conceive. Your Capital Women’s Care doctor can tell you whether it’s especially important for you to consider the hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and pneumococcal vaccines based on health issues, lifestyle, or travel plans that could put you at higher risk. They can also offer you expert guidance if you are midway through a vaccine series that was initiated before you conceived.

Your vaccine needs are determined by your age, lifestyle, medical conditions, travel and previous vaccination history.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends pregnant women get 2 vaccines during every pregnancy: the inactivated flu vaccine injection (not the live nasal flu vaccine) and the Tdap vaccine.

Flu Vaccine

The CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine anytime during pregnancy. While flu seasons vary in timing, the CDC recommends becoming vaccinated by the end of October, if possible. Vaccination later during flu season, though, can still be beneficial. Flu vaccines have been given to millions of pregnant women over the years, and scientific evidence shows that it’s safe.

During the 2016-2017 flu season, an estimated 50% of U.S. pregnant women protected themselves and their babies from flu through getting a flu shot.

While the number of pregnant women opting to get the flu vaccine during pregnancy is rising, about 50% of pregnant women and their babies remain unprotected against the flu’s potentially harmful effects, including:

Influenza (flu) is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women of reproductive age who aren’t pregnant.

Changes in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women (and women up to 2 weeks postpartum) more prone to severe illness from flu, including illnesses requiring hospitalization.

Some flu complications pregnant women are more prone to include:

  • pneumonia
  • sinus and ear infections
  • myocarditis (inflammation of the heart)
  • encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • myositis or rhabdomyolysis (inflammation of muscle tissues)
  • multi-organ failure (respiratory and kidney failure)
  • or extreme inflammatory response in the body to flu-related respiratory tract infection can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection.

preterm labor (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and premature birth (birth occurring before 37 weeks of pregnancy.) Women who don’t have flu vaccine protection during pregnancy are more likely to have these complications.

Cause harm to your developing baby. A common flu symptom is fever, which may be associated with neural tube defects (affecting baby’s brain and spinal cord) and other birth defects for a developing baby.

Getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your baby for several months after birth from flu-related complications.

Recent research proves there are many health benefits the maternal flu vaccine has for both mother and baby:

  • Vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant women by up to 50%.
  • A 2018 study showed getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40%.
  • Pregnant women who receive a flu vaccine also help protect their babies from flu illness for the first several months after birth, when babies are too young to be vaccinated (babies younger than 6 months old are too young to get a flu vaccine.)

It’s important that you and everyone who cares for your baby receive a flu vaccine, including other household members, relatives, babysitters and caregivers.

Tdap Vaccine

The tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine is another important vaccine for pregnant women to receive.

One dose of Tdap vaccine is recommended during each pregnancy to protect your newborn from whooping cough (pertussis), regardless of when you had your last Tdap or tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccination.

Ideally, the Tdap vaccine should be given to pregnant women who are between 27 to 36 weeks gestation.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pertussis (whooping cough) can be deadly for infants and children:

Most pertussis cases occur in infants less than 2 months old.

Babies in this age bracket account for 69% of pertussis deaths and 262 to 743 pertussis-related hospitalizations each year, according to ACOG.

Infants aren’t eligible for the first pertussis-containing vaccine until age 2 months.

As a result, newborns are best protected if their mothers receive a Tdap vaccine during pregnancy. Vaccination during pregnancy provides newborns passive immunity, which protects them from pertussis until they get their vaccination at age 2 months.

Partners, family members and infant caregivers who are around infants less than 1 year old should also receive the Tdap vaccine if they haven’t previously been vaccinated.

Postpartum Maternal Vaccines

After pregnancy, women can receive vaccines, even while breastfeeding. Post-pregnancy vaccinations also help protect your infant. If you’re immune to a virus or bacterium, you’re less likely to share it with your child. If you aren’t properly vaccinated, you and your infant could become sick.

According to the ACIP’s General Best Practice Guidelines for Immunization in Special Situations, with exception of the smallpox and yellow fever vaccines, the remaining available vaccines administered to a lactating woman don’t affect the safety of breastfeeding for those women or their infants.

You can address any questions or concerns you have with your local Capital Women’s Care team about vaccinations, its impact on breastfeeding or any other women’s health issue. Our team of knowledgeable, friendly healthcare professionals offer you expert care and services throughout your pregnancy, as well as throughout all stages of your life, from initial well-woman checks through post-menopause healthcare. Our goal is for you to achieve and enjoy optimal health and a long, quality life.

The CDC offers these valuable fact sheets

The flu and its effects on pregnant women:
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/pregnant/flushot_pregnant_fact...

Vaccine guidelines for parents of young children:
https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/growing/images/global/CDC-Growing-Up-with-V... Know?

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/vaccines-during-pregnancy.html
https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/influenza-and-pregnancy.aspx
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expe...
https://www.acog.org/programs/immunization-for-women/activities-initiati...
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/vaccines-for-women-before-conception...
https://www.healthline.com/health/vaccinations
https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pregnancy/downloads/immunizations-preg-char...
https://mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/vaccines-pregnancy/pdf/
https://www.vaccines.gov/who_and_when/pregnant
https://www.hhs.gov/immunization/who-and-when/pregnant/index.html

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