Whooping cough vaccination for pregnant women

In recent years, cases of whooping cough (pertussis) have risen 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 whilst pregnant. The information on this page will answer some questions you may have about whooping cough and the vaccine.

How to get the vaccine

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.

What is 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.

How getting vaccinated during pregnancy protects your baby

The immunity (antibodies) you develop from the vaccine will be passed to your baby through the placenta. This will help protect your baby in the first few weeks of life until he or she is old enough to have the vaccination themselves.

Babies are offered whooping cough vaccination at two, three and four months old as part of their routine immunisations.

When to get the vaccine

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. It will still help protect you and reduce the risk of you infecting your baby.

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

Are there any risks to me or my baby if I’m vaccinated while I’m pregnant?

The whooping cough vaccine is not a live vaccine 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.

What vaccine will I be given?

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.

Possible side effects from being vaccinated

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.

Is there an alternative way to protect my baby from whooping cough?

No. Recently in the UK some young babies have died before they were old enough to have their first whooping cough vaccination. Having the vaccination during pregnancy provides antibodies that will be passed to the baby so he or she has some protection in the first few weeks of life when whooping cough is most serious.

I am going to breastfeed. Won’t that protect my baby?

No. Not enough immunity against whooping cough is passed in breast milk to protect your baby.

Why can’t my baby be vaccinated as soon as they are born?

Newborn babies don’t respond well to this vaccine. The earliest your baby can get the vaccine is at two months. Three doses are needed to get full protection.

Will the vaccination definitely mean my baby doesn’t get whooping cough?

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

I have heard that I should have the flu vaccine when I am pregnant. Can I have both vaccines and can I have them together?

If you are pregnant during the 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 at the same time or separately – the vaccines don’t interfere with each other if given together.

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