Whooping cough vaccination for pregnant women

In recent years, cases of whooping cough (also known as pertussis) have risen sharply across the UK. You can help protect your unborn baby from getting whooping cough in the weeks after birth by having the whooping cough vaccination while you are pregnant.

Whooping cough

Whooping cough is a serious disease that causes long bouts of coughing and choking, making it hard to breathe. The ‘whoop’ noise is caused by gasping for breath after each bout of coughing.

Young babies are most at risk from whooping cough. For these babies, the disease is very serious and can lead to pneumonia and permanent brain damage. In the worst cases, it can cause death.

The vaccine

No single whooping cough vaccine is available. You will be given a vaccine already used as part of the childhood immunisation schedule that also protects against diphtheria, tetanus and polio.

The whooping cough vaccine isn’t live, so it can’t cause whooping cough in you or your baby. Having vaccines in pregnancy has been studied and no evidence of risk has been found. It’s much safer for you to have the vaccination than to risk your newborn baby catching whooping cough.

You may have some mild side effects from the vaccination such as swelling, redness or tenderness where the vaccine was given.  Serious side effects are extremely rare.

If you are pregnant during flu season, then you should have the flu vaccine as early as possible. If you are over 16 weeks pregnant, then you can and should have both vaccines. You can have them together or separately, the vaccines don’t interfere with each other if given together.

Although the vaccine won’t completely guarantee that your baby won’t get whooping cough, it does make it very unlikely.

Getting vaccinated

The best time to get vaccinated to protect your baby is from week 16 of your pregnancy. If you are in week 16 of your pregnancy or beyond, your GP will arrange for you to get this vaccine. If you don’t hear anything, talk to your GP to make sure you don’t miss out.

If you get the vaccine less than two weeks before giving birth, antibodies may not have had time to develop and be passed to your baby in big enough quantities. However, it will still reduce the risk of you infecting the baby.

Your baby will still need to be vaccinated as normal starting at two weeks old.

If you are in week 16 of your pregnancy or beyond, your GP will arrange for you to get this vaccine. If you haven’t heard from your GP, contact them to arrange an appointment.

Are there alternatives to the vaccine

There is no other way to protect your baby from whooping cough. Recently, some young babies in the UK have died from whooping cough before they were old enough to receive their first vaccine.

Getting vaccinated during pregnancy provides antibodies that will be passed to the baby so he or she has some protection during the first few weeks of life when whooping cough is most serious.

The earliest your baby can receive the vaccine themselves is at two months, as newborn babies do not respond well to the vaccine. Three doses are needed to get full protection.

Breastfeeding alone will not protect your child from whooping cough before their first injection, as not enough immunity is passed in the breast milk to your baby.

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