Pregnant mother with child evaluating her vaccinations.

Because a pregnant woman’s immune system is working for two, she is more at risk for a variety of diseases and infections, including flu, chicken pox, measles, rubella, and whooping cough. These conditions can be dangerous for both the mother and her unborn baby. This is why ideally; women should be fully vaccinated before becoming pregnant.

By getting vaccinated, you pass a portion of your immunity to your baby to protect them in their early weeks of life—a critical time before they receive vaccinations from their pediatrician. If a disease outbreak occurs, or you are exposed to someone with a specific condition, you will already be protected.

Vaccinations to Consider Before Pregnancy

There are many vaccinations recommended for all women. Some are only recommended for certain groups depending on their risk for developing diseases or conditions.

Check out the recommended immunization for adults 19 years or older on the CDC website. You can also talk to your primary doctor or OB-GYN to make sure you are up to date before becoming pregnant.

2 Vaccinations You Should Get During Pregnancy

1: Yearly Flu Vaccine

The CDC recommends women get the flu shot--either Influenza IIV (Inactivated Influenza Vaccine) or the RIV (Recombinant Influenza Vaccine). You should NOT get the nasal spray vaccine as it is a live vaccine.

Changes in your heart, lungs, and immune system during pregnancy make you more than five times more likely to develop a severe illness from the flu. The fever that often accompanies the flu may also be harmful to your developing baby. The risk of premature labor and delivery also increases for pregnant women with the flu.

A 2018 study shows the likelihood of pregnant women being hospitalized due to the flu decreases by as much as 40% with the flu shot.

What You Need to Know:

  • You need one dose of the flu vaccine at any point in pregnancy or prior to pregnancy (within the past year).
  • A flu shot is good for one year only, and is safe to get in any trimester.
  • All family members/caregivers who will be in close contact with your newborn should get the flu shot.
  • If you did not get a flu shot while you were pregnant, or you are due for your yearly shot in the postpartum period after birth, this is safe—even if breastfeeding. You can have either the flu shot or nasal spray after delivery.
2: TDAP Vaccine (Tetanus-Diphtheria-Acellular Pertussis Vaccine)

Pertussis or whooping cough—spread through coughing, sneezing, or close contact—can be very contagious and serious for your newborn. It may even require them to be hospitalized. Your baby can have violent coughing spells, turn blue, or even stop breathing. The younger your baby is, the more dangerous pertussis can be.

Get one dose of the TDAP vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of each pregnancy. This reduces the risk of maternal pertussis which a mother can pass to her newborn through close contact.

You will pass along antibodies (protective proteins) to your unborn baby about 2 weeks after you get the vaccine. This gives your baby a degree of short-term protection until they get their whooping cough vaccine at 2 months of age.

If you can’t get the vaccine during pregnancy, you can still get it immediately after you deliver your baby, even if you are breastfeeding.

Vaccinations to Avoid

You should avoid getting live vaccines during pregnancy or if there is a possibility you may be pregnant. This includes: MMR (measles, mumps, rubella); varicella (chicken pox). If you have gotten either of these vaccines, you should avoid pregnancy for four weeks.

Your doctor will check to see if you are immune (your body has made protection of its own) to these conditions with routine pregnancy bloodwork.

If you are not immune to measles, mumps, rubella, or chicken pox, you should get these vaccines immediately after delivering your baby, preferably before leaving the hospital.

Both vaccines are safe during breastfeeding because they are not passed through breast milk or casual contact with your baby. Breastfeeding will also not affect how well the vaccine works for you as the mother.

A Note on Foreign Travel

If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant and planning to travel overseas, check the CDC website for vaccine recommendations specific to your destination. Of course, during the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign travel is likely not possible or recommended.

The Zika virus became a concern in recent years. The virus can be passed from you to your baby and can potentially cause severe brain defects. Zika is spread though infected mosquitoes. It can also be spread by sex without a condom (through semen) with someone who is infected.

There is no vaccine or medication to treat the Zika virus. The best prevention is to avoid areas where Zika is prevalent. This information is always updated on the CDC website.