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Pregnant Women Should Get Whooping Cough Vaccine Experts Say

Katlyn Joy |16, August 2014


According to a new study out of Britain, pregnant women should be vaccinated against pertussis, or whooping cough. This falls in line with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

In 2012, noting the increase in whooping cough cases and particularly newborn deaths as a result, the UK initiated a vaccination program to fight the problem. As a part of this push, over 700,000 pregnant women in the final few months of pregnancy were immunized against pertussis, diphtheria, and polio.

The reasoning behind immunizing pregnant women against whooping cough is that infants cannot receive the vaccine until they are two months old and the illness can be particularly dangerous to newborns. By giving the mothers the vaccine in late pregnancy, her body will begin to make antibodies against the disease, and pass them along to baby. This protection will last until it's time to immunize the baby. For this reason, the CDC recommends a pregnant woman get the vaccine in each of her pregnancies, during the 27th through 36th week of pregnancy.

What is Whooping Cough or Pertussis?

Whooping cough gets its name for the characteristic whooping sounding cough that results from a respiratory infection. This cough is a hacking one and then the rapid inhalation sounds particularly high-pitched. The illness is highly contagious and nowadays affects teens and adults whose immunity has ended, and young infants not yet vaccinated. While its symptoms are normally mild, some cases can become severe and claim lives.

Generally, whooping cough begins like an ordinary cold. However, over the course of a week or two, the symptoms take a serious turn and include things such as extreme fatigue, or a horrid cough with the distinctive whooping sounding cough that results in a face that turns blue or red, and may result in vomiting. However, not all people infected with pertussis will develop the whooping sound in their coughs.

Complications for infants with pertussis are more likely to occur and be severe. This is especially true for babies under 6 months. They can develop dehydration, seizures, brain damage, pneumonia, ear infections and breathing difficulties.

British researchers for the UK study looked at data from over 20,000 pregnant women who were vaccinated against whooping cough starting in 2012.

The findings were that no increased risk of pregnancy complications with the vaccine. For instance, no increase in stillbirths was found with immunization, and it did not affect mortality rates of mother or child, the cesarean rates, or cases of preeclampsia, miscarriage, or low birth weight or shorter than average babies.

The CDC also finds that breastfeeding may also help protect babies from whooping cough. If a mother gets the vaccine in her last trimester, when she nurses her baby she will pass along antibodies to the illness in her milk. If you are vaccinated after giving birth, there will be a two-week delay before those protective antibodies get into mother's milk.

When to Vaccinate

According to the Mayo Clinic, the schedule for vaccinations should be:

  • Five injections of the vaccine given to children at age 2, 4 and 6 months, at 15 to 18 months and the last at 4 to 6 years of age.
  • Booster shots should be given to children around 11 years of age when the protection begins to wane. Adults can get boosters with a combined tetanus vaccine.
  • Pregnant women should get the vaccine in the weeks 27 through 36 in every pregnancy.

Reactions to the Vaccination

There are side effects from the shot, but are considerably milder than the disease, so that should not be a consideration. These reactions may include tenderness near the injection site, fever, fussiness, and in rare and severe cases, extreme crying lasting multiple hours, high fever, and even seizures, coma or shock.

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