Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases updated immunization guidelines based on current scientific research. This year’s guidelines for 2013, released earlier this month, represent a significant change for those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

Every pregnant woman is encouraged to have a Tdap vaccine, regardless of previous vaccination. That means a Tdap vaccination during each and every pregnancy. 

Why the change?

The Tdap vaccine is given to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Pertussis, or whooping cough, has become a grave concern in recent years. According to the CDC, 27,550 cases of pertussis occurred in the United States in 2010; 3,350 of these cases were infants. Twenty-five of those infants lost their lives because of pertussis infection.

We are experiencing record numbers of this serious, life-threatening infection, and infants under one year of age are the most vulnerable to complications and death.

Previous recommendations have advised “cocooning” your infant. That means making sure that each and every person who comes into contact with the child has been vaccinated against pertussis.

However, these new guidelines go a step further to help protect baby. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of infant pertussis infections are passed on by the child’s mother. If a mother is given the vaccine while pregnant, the mother herself is protected and maternal antibodies are passed from mother to child, giving the child an extra layer of protection after birth until the child can begin vaccinations at two months of age.

Is it safe?

It is safe to receive the Tdap vaccine during pregnancy. Pregnant women do not experience any more frequent or unusual adverse events, and it is safe for their newborn as well.

The vaccine is also fully compatible with breastfeeding. A breastfeeding mother who has been vaccinated is continuing to pass along her maternal antibodies to protect the infant.

The downside? Plain and simple: it’s painful. It’s never fun to get a shot, and this new recommendation adds one more layer to the less-than-pleasant side of having babies.

Do I need a Tdap if I’ve already received the vaccine in the past?

Recent studies have shown that over time, immunity to pertussis fades. Even if you were fully vaccinated in the past, you may be at risk.

The CDC recommends that every pregnant woman receive the vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of every pregnancy to ensure that both mom and baby are maximally protected during the most critical time of the infant’s development.

And remember, cocooning the baby (surrounding them with fully vaccinated family members and caregivers) is also very important. Check with your family- if they haven’t had a Tdap as an adult, ask them to go ahead and get one.

For more information on immunizations for pregnant women, check out this helpful handout from the CDC.

 

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