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Why It’s Important to Get a Tdap Vaccine During Pregnancy

Getting a Tdap shot during pregnancy may save your baby from a disease called pertussis. Also known as whooping cough, pertussis can be dangerous to newborns. Vaccinating babies at birth is not effective against this infection. The only way for a newborn to develop immunity against pertussis is to receive the antibodies from his or her recently immunized mother.

Tdap shot during pregnancy

According to the European Board and College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (EBCOG), getting a Tdap vaccine can be beneficial for all pregnant women who don’t have contraindications. A dose of Tdap should be administered during each pregnancy, even if you have already received a Tdap before. To ensure better protection for your baby, optimal timing for Tdap administration is between 27 and 36 weeks of gestation, although Tdap may be given at any time during pregnancy.

Pertussis vaccination during pregnancy is now officially recommended in several countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Belgium, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Israel, to protect infants from infection.

What is a Tdap vaccine?

Tdap is a combination vaccine that protects from three infectious diseases:

  • Tetanus (leads to painful tightening of the muscles)
  • Diphtheria (causes a severe sore throat and fever)
  • Pertussis (causes whooping cough and difficulty breathing) 

Thanks to the vaccination, the incidence of these diseases has dropped by 80–99% in the U.S., when compared to pre-vaccination years.

Tdap is an inactivated vaccine, which means it doesn’t contain any live pathogens and cannot cause disease.

How Tdap protects your baby

Among the three infections above, pertussis poses the most significant threat to infants today. The infection is highly contagious and spreads through the air, meaning that an infant can get pertussis from an infected person that is nearby in the same room or building. Tdap provides your baby with the required immunity boost to fight pertussis, diphtheria, or tetanus, should they encounter these infections.

Tdap cannot be given to newborns because their immune systems cannot create antibodies until they are 2 months old. So vaccination, if done after birth, cannot immediately protect them. At 2 months, babies usually receive their first DTaP shot, which is an analog of Tdap specially designed for infants and children up to six years old. 

During the first two months of your baby’s life, the antibodies received from you before birth are their only reliable defence from pertussis. That’s why it’s so important that you get a Tdap shot during pregnancy. This can protect your baby in two ways. First, they can get the antibodies through the placenta and through breast milk. Second, vaccination during pregnancy reduces the risk of infection for you, which, in turn, minimizes your child’s potential exposure to pertussis.

When you need to get Tdap to protect your child

Doctors recommend that pregnant women get a Tdap vaccine during weeks 27–36 of the pregnancy. Women who get the vaccination earlier during their pregnancy, however, do not need to repeat it.

Note that getting a Tdap before pregnancy or after delivery does NOT provide your baby with the required protection.

Is Tdap during pregnancy safe?

Research shows that getting a Tdap vaccine during pregnancy is generally safe for both you and your baby. Scientists haven’t found links between Tdap and any birth defects or pathologies after birth.

With that said, Tdap may cause side effects such as headache, nausea, fever, or localized pain. Severe side effects are very rare. Like any vaccine, Tdap can cause an allergic reaction — though it’s rare. Please talk to your doctor if you:

  • Have a neurological condition
  • Have any allergies
  • Were diagnosed with Guillain Barré syndrome
  • Aren’t feeling well on the vaccination day
  • Ever had severe pain, swelling, or repeated seizures after Tdap, DTaP, or similar vaccines.

The bottom line

To protect your newborn from a highly contagious infection called pertussis (whooping cough), you can get a Tdap shot during pregnancy. The best time to get vaccinated is between weeks 27 and 36. The vaccine will also protect your child from tetanus and diphtheria. Getting a Tdap during pregnancy is generally considered safe and is recommended by all major health care authorities.

Content created in association with EBCOG, the European Board & College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

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