Why Immunizations are Important During Pregnancy

By David L. Grimes, MD, MPH

Center for Health Advancement, Arkansas Department of Health

If you are pregnant or plan to get pregnant, you need vaccines to protect you and your baby, as well. These shots are safe for both of you.

Try to get all of the regular shots you need before pregnancy. OB doctors now recommend these five shots (vaccines) during your pregnancy:

• Flu (yearly, usually given October through December)
• Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough)
• Hepatitis A
• Hepatitis B
• Pneumonia

Why are these so important? We have tracked the results in medical studies for millions of women who received these shots when they were pregnant. The result: They had healthier pregnancies – better health for them and their babies compared to moms who did not get the vaccines.

Your baby's "immune system" – that is his or her ability to fight off an infection – does not work very well for the first few months after birth. Your doctor will not begin giving most "baby shots" until your newborn is 6 months old. Your small, helpless baby can only be protected if you get your vaccines during pregnancy. A week or two after these shots, you will start producing "antibodies" (germ fighters) that will protect you for years and your child for several months after birth. These small germ fighters cross your placenta where they protect your baby until old enough to make his or her own germ fighters.

We used to worry that the same vaccines that protect you might not be safe for the baby developing in your body. The fear was miscarriage or birth defects. The fact is vaccines do not cause or increase chances for either. Sadly, we now know that many moms and their babies died because of this bad information.

The flu shot is an excellent example. The 2009 H1N1 epidemic changed our thinking. In the past, we never gave flu shots during pregnancy. Based on the studies, we now know that you and your baby are less likely to get the flu — and both of you are less likely to die from the flu — if you get a flu shot during pregnancy. Your flu shot is the only thing that will protect your baby. Flu shots also decrease your chance of a premature delivery during flu season, which can be very dangerous for your newborn.

Get your shots. Protect yourself and your baby!