By Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat
It’s National Immunization Awareness Month! This week’s theme is “Protect yourself and pass protection on to your baby.” Although there are some vaccines that women shouldn’t get while they are pregnant, several vaccines are safe in pregnancy and are even recommended. Diseases like influenza and whooping cough can be very serious for infants, and getting the flu while you’re pregnant can lead to complications for you. Getting vaccinated against flu and whooping cough is one of the best ways to protect mom and baby. Of course, it’s also important to be sure you are up-to-date on other vaccines before becoming pregnant. To learn more about vaccines that you may need before, during, and after pregnancy, take a look at this chart. Because whooping cough continues to cause outbreaks in Maine and nationally, our guest blogger, Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat is here to help us spread the word about preventing additional cases in newborns.
A newborn baby is exciting, and friends and family can’t wait to welcome the newest addition. It is such a special time for everyone, but it is important to remember that all those visitors can bring harmful germs with them. To keep your baby healthy, you should take every opportunity to protect them from diseases that can spread easily and quickly. That includes making sure that everyone who touches the baby washes their hands first and that those who are sick wait to visit until they are well. One of the most dangerous illnesses that a baby can get is whooping cough, or pertussis, which is easily spread from children and adults to infants through coughing and sneezing.
Pertussis is very contagious. In older kids and adults, the disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms, which slowly turn into a severe cough. The cough comes in fits that make it hard for someone with pertussis to catch their breath. However, people with pertussis often look and feel fine between coughing fits, so you might not notice they are sick right away. A person with pertussis is contagious for several weeks, but the cough often lasts much longer. In fact, pertussis is sometimes referred to as the “100-day cough.” It is harder to notice pertussis in infants because one of the only symptoms they show is a pause in their breathing pattern known as “apnea.” Infants less than three months of age are the most at risk of serious illness or even death from pertussis because they have smaller windpipes and cannot get enough air after coughing. Half of all babies less than 1 year old who get pertussis have to go to the hospital, sometimes for many days.
Protect Your Baby
Most infants acquire pertussis from well-meaning family members who may not know they have pertussis. The best way you can protect your baby is to get a Tdap vaccine during pregnancy. Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccination during pregnancy has been shown to be safe in many studies. Tdap should be given between 27 and 36 weeks gestation during every pregnancy so the antibodies can be transferred through the placenta to the baby. This will protect your baby in the first two months of life when their immune systems are still developing and they are still too young to receive a pertussis vaccine. A one-time dose of Tdap is also recommended for adolescents and adults. Fathers, grandparents, adolescent siblings and other close relatives are strongly encouraged to check with their healthcare provider to be sure they have had Tdap vaccine before the baby is born because it can take 2 weeks for the vaccine to be effective. It is important to make sure young siblings are up-to-date on their pertussis vaccines too. By ensuring that everyone who will come into contact with the baby is vaccinated, the baby will be less likely to get pertussis.
If you are pregnant or are planning to be pregnant, or if you know someone who is pregnant, read more about pertussis and pregnancy and talk to your healthcare provider about Tdap soon. You can be proud that you have taken an important step in keeping babies protected from whooping cough!
Dr. Dawson-Chalat is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist who has practiced at Coastal Women’s Healthcare in Scarborough, Maine since 1995. Her special interests include high-risk pregnancy, menopause, minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, adolescent gynecology, colposcopy, infertility and in-office endometrial ablation and sterilization. She is a native of Portland and lives with her family in Cape Elizabeth.