Prior to pregnancy you may need to consider vaccinations that protect you and your baby during the pregnancy period. These include the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, the chicken pox vaccine and hepatitis A/B vaccine. If you have had chicken pox in the past, you will be protected. However, if you have had a vaccination in the past for the above viruses, your immunity status should be checked, and a vaccination recommended if this is sub-optimal.
There are other vaccines important for your general health that should not be administered during pregnancy, but may be considered prior to pregnancy, including the meningococcal vaccine, and the HPV vaccine. A recently released vaccine protects you against nine of the most common HPV viruses that cause 90% of cervical cancers and genital warts. Your GP can advise you of your suitability for these vaccines.
Whooping cough and influenza vaccinations:
It is recommended to be vaccinated every pregnancy for whooping cough and influenza, unless you have an allergy to these preparations.
Whooping cough is relatively common infection in the community, across all ages, and it is easily passed by droplet spread from infected individuals. It can cause a nasty respiratory infection to your newborn requiring hospitalization, and cause long-term lung disease in your child. In severe cases a newborn may not survive the infection.
The good news is that your newborn can be protected by having a whooping cough vaccination, optimally given between 28-32 weeks of pregnancy. The antibodies you produce against this vaccine cross the placenta, enter the babies circulation and protect your baby for the first 3-4 critical months until your child has begun its own vaccinations (the DTTP vaccine). Your partner and any other close contacts with your newborn are also encouraged to have a booster every 5 years in order to create “herd immunity” around your child.
The “flu” is a particularly nasty infection to acquire during pregnancy and pregnant women are considered high risk. Pregnant women have an altered immune system and later in pregnancy have compromised respiratory capacity. If you are pregnant, you should take the “flu” very seriously and check in with your GP or obstetrician.
Fortunately, the flu vaccine is available in Autumn every year and is recommended by Australian medical authorities. Pregnant women may consider receiving the flu vaccine at any gestation during their pregnancy and it bears no harm to you or your baby as it only contains the “dead” influenza virus. Like the whooping cough vaccine, the antibodies you produce against the influenza viral strains will cross the placenta and protect your baby at birth.
Other important precautions that you can take to reduce the risk of acquiring a nasty respiratory infection are regular washing of hands before touching your own, or your child’s, face. Others who clearly have signs of the flu or a respiratory tract infection should ideally not handle the child.