Getting the Pertussis Vaccine in Pregnancy Protects Baby Later

Moms-to-be should get vaccinated in the third trimester to protect their newborn from this deadly bacterial infection, according to new research.

Pertussis Vaccine Recommended for Pregnant Women Getty Image: Thomas Vogel

The best way to protect your newborn from pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is to get vaccinated yourself during pregnancy, according to a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The research showed that the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) vaccine is safe for moms-to-be—with no increase in the risk of preterm delivery, low birth rate or preeclampsia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting the injection in your third trimester—the ideal time being between Week 27 and Week 38. When moms-to-be receive the vaccine, they produce antibodies against the bacterial infection that get passed to their unborn children in utero, according to lead study author, Dr. Elyse Kharbanda of the HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research in Minneapolis, Minn.

The in-the-womb immunity boost is a newborn baby's only defense against the life-threatening illness—babies can't be vaccinated for whooping cough until they reach two months of age, per CDC guidelines. The respiratory infection is stubborn and highly contagious (it's often spread by coughing or sneezing). It affects an infant's lungs and makes it hard to breathe; it can also lead to pneumonia, convulsions and brain disease. The CDC reports that of the babies who contract the sickness, half will be admitted into the hospital.

If you're debating whether the vaccine is worth it, know this: In 2012, the CDC reported the worst whooping cough outbreak since 1955. 50,000 cases were reported, with infants being more affected than any other age group—including the highest rate of death as a result of the contracting the illness.

Unfortunately, according to a study on women in Michigan conducted by Medicaid earlier this year, approximately only 14 percent of pregnant women actually get the Tdap shot. And minorities fared even worse—less than seven percent of Middle Eastern women get it and only about eight percent of African Americans were vaccinated. So here's a game plan:

Do your research

Visit the CDC website for clear research on the vaccine.

Call your doc

Over the next 40 weeks, you'll be seeing your OB-GYN a lot. If you have questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Bring your partner—and maybe a few other people

While getting the vaccine during pregnant is a baby's best line of defense against pertussis, it doesn't hurt (and is recommended by doctors) for Dad, and other caregivers who will be in close contact with your baby, to get the shot, too.