Vaccinations in pregnancy: which should you get and what are the benefits

by Bryony Firth-Bernard |

As a mum-to-be, you want to do everything in your power to protect the health of your newborn baby.

There are a couple of vaccines that you will be advised to get during pregnancy, that will not only protect your own health but your baby’s too. These vaccines are inactivated, which means they don’t contain a live version of the virus, therefore neither you or your baby are at risk of becoming infected.

‘You should never give a pregnant woman a live vaccine,’ says obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Ellie Rayner, founder of The Maternity Collective.

‘Live vaccines contain a live version of the virus, for example, the MMR vaccine, and it could either cause you or your unborn baby to become infected.’

Here we decode what vaccinations you need to get and avoid during pregnancy.

What vaccines are recommended during pregnancy?

Flu vaccine

The flu vaccine protects both you and your baby. Catching the flu can be serious for pregnant women, because your immune system is weakened to protect your pregnancy, therefore your body is more susceptible to catching it.

‘Particularly in the later part of your pregnancy you're more likely to suffer with a severe flu and have complications because your bump is bigger, which makes breathing more difficult,’ says Dr Ellie.

‘Flu can also cause harm to your baby; they can have a low birth weight, be born prematurely and very very rarely it can cause a stillbirth. It’s dangerous to pregnant women, which is why they are included in the recommended groups that are eligible for a free flu vaccine.’

You can organise your flu vaccine by contacting your GP or midwife. You can also have it at any point during your pregnancy and you must get it every year.

The best time to have it is in the autumn, before the virus starts circulating, but don’t worry if you’re unable to do this, just make sure you book in for it as soon as you can. The NHS also says the flu vaccine is also safe for women who are breastfeeding.

‘There's also good evidence that it protects both mums and babies,’ says Dr Ellie. ‘There will be some immunity passed to your baby because you'll make antibodies which you'll then pass through the placenta to your baby, so they'll have some protection from flu when they're born.’

Dr Ellie also notes that side effects can include a slight rise in temperature and achy muscles, which may last for around a day. However don’t panic, it's just how your body is reacting and fighting in a new response but you haven't been given the flu.

Whooping cough vaccine

This is a bacterial infection of the lungs and tubes and a very serious condition that can affect babies.

The vaccine is purely to protect your baby as whooping cough doesn’t affect pregnant women.

‘You're not having this vaccine to protect yourself, you're having it so you will develop antibodies that you’ll then pass through the placenta into your baby's bloodstream, so that when they're born they're protected from whooping cough,’ says Dr Ellie.

Babies can become very unwell with whooping cough; it can lead to brain damage, pneumonia and in the most severe cases, even death.

The vaccine is offered to women between 16 and 32 weeks of pregnancy. ‘The reason for that is because that's the optimum time for you to make the antibodies and for them to pass to your baby,’ says Dr Ellie. ‘So once they're born they've got the protection ready to go up until they can have their first whooping cough vaccine, usually about 8 weeks old.’

If you do miss this window for the vaccine still get it, as the NHS says you can have it up until you go into labour. However, it is worth noting if this is the case, your baby is less likely to have protection from you.

What vaccines should I avoid during pregnancy?

Pregnant women should never be given live vaccines as you and your unborn baby can run the risk of catching the infection.

Live vaccines that should be avoided during pregnancy include:

  • MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella)

  • Yellow fever

  • GCB (vaccination against tuberculosis)

  • Oral polio

  • Oral typhoid

What if I’m pregnant and travelling to a different country?

Travel vaccines, such as yellow fever, contain a live version of the vaccine, therefore pregnant women are advised to avoid travelling to countries where you may need one of these.

However, if you can’t avoid going to the country, Dr Ellie says you’ll need to arrange to speak to your GP, midwife or obstetrician.

'If for whatever reason you can't avoid travelling to the area while pregnant it's important to have a risk and benefit discussion with your doctor to decide if it is worth taking the chance and the risk of having a live vaccine, rather than getting the infection itself.'

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