Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a dangerous infection that often affects babies and young children. Aptly named, the most notable symptom of the infection is a cough that makes the infected person sound as though they’re violently gasping for air, or “whooping.” Until recently, the Tdap vaccination for whooping cough was usually administered when a baby turned two months old, since that was the point at which he or she could handle the medication. However, a recent outbreak of the infection has had experts questioning the method of prevention and making changes to regulation. Now, research shows that babies will be better protected if their mother gets the vaccine late in the pregnancy.

Obviously, a vaccination at two months old will only protect a baby from that point on. There have been numerous cases in which a baby came down with the infection only a few days after birth and died in the ICU. The vaccine can’t be administered any earlier, but studies have shown that when a pregnant woman is vaccinated between 27 and 36 weeks gestation, her baby will be born with a small but sufficient amount of the vaccine to fight the infection should he or she come into contact with it.

Most women are wary of extra vaccines during their pregnancy, and understandably so. However, you should talk to your doctor about the risks, because your baby might be vulnerable in the first two months of life. Women with older children should be particularly concerned, as they can easily pick up the virus from classmates and bring it home to the baby. The children won’t be affected because they’re protected, but your baby will be vulnerable if you hadn’t gotten the vaccine.

Even if you got a whooping cough Tdap vaccine a few months ago or at the beginning of your pregnancy, your doctor still might recommend another dose before you give birth. It will be transferred to your growing baby in a small dose. The vaccine won’t harm your baby or affect his or her development, but it will serve as protection against the dangerous infection.

If you’ve already had your baby and didn’t go through with the vaccine during pregnancy, speak with your doctor about ways to protect him or her until the first vaccine. Limited contact with young kids and holding off on family vacations might be necessary in the meantime.

Source: Mary Healy et al: Importance of Timing of Maternal Tdap Immunization and Protection of Young Infants. Clinical Infectious Diseases October 2012

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