When you’re pregnant, you need to be a little more careful about a lot of things–food, medications, exercise, and so on. The same is also true of immunizations and vaccines. There are some immunizations you’ll want to avoid and others that are recommended to receive, even during pregnancy.
The immunizations recommended in pregnancy are a critical part of your prenatal care. They’ll help protect you–and your baby–from specific diseases and conditions. And while another “do-this-not-that” list might feel a bit overwhelming, the good news is that your OBGYN or Midwife will be able to tell you which immunizations you should avoid and which you should receive and during what time during your pregnancy.
The typical immunizations recommended in pregnancy include the influenza (flu) vaccine, TDAP vaccine, RhoGAM immunization, and the Covid-19 vaccine. These vaccines are given the highest levels of scrutiny possible, which means you can feel confident that you’re doing what’s best for your health–and your baby’s health. However, there’s a lot of vaccine misinformation floating around the internet these days. So, if you have questions about vaccines, make sure you speak to your OBGYN or Midwife to find the answers you need to feel safe.
What is a Vaccine?
Immunity and vaccines have been widely discussed over the past few years, but it still might be helpful to go over the basics. It all starts with your body’s immune response. That’s because your immune system is very smart and it learns from experience. Once you’re infected with a disease (for example, chickenpox), your body develops specialized defenses called antibodies. That means you’re very unlikely to get chickenpox again.
Vaccines are a way to give your immune system this same level of preparation without making you sick. Once you’ve been vaccinated against a virus or bacteria, you’re much less likely to experience symptoms and the illness is successfully prevented, or at least mitigated for certain viruses like COVID.
With a simple and safe shot, a vaccine is able to prevent you from contracting a disease or minimizing it’s effects–many of which are potentially life threatening. When you’re pregnant, your immune system is your baby’s immune system–so protecting you from disease also means protecting your baby.
Types of Vaccines
Broadly speaking, there are three major types of vaccines currently available.
- Live Virus Vaccines: These vaccines work by injecting you with a very small amount of weakened or live virus. Your body is able to easily fight off any infection because the virus is either presented in limited quantities or weakened.
- Inactivated Vaccines: These vaccines contain only dead cells. But, for some viruses and bacteria, that’s enough information for your body to successfully create defenses.
- mRNA Vaccines: This is a brand new vaccine type. These vaccines contain only spike proteins from viruses. This means that your body can develop immunity to a wide variety of possible mutations. The only mRNA vaccine on the market today is the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are more under development.
Over the course of your pregnancy, you’ll typically be instructed to avoid vaccines that rely on a live virus. That’s because there’s a small risk that the active virus may cause complications with you or your baby. And while that risk is very small, most providers agree that the possible benefits are not worth those risks.
There are some exceptions. That’s because in some unique cases, your OBGYN or Midwife may find that the benefits or live virus vaccines do outweigh the possible risks. You should only take such vaccines under direction from your OBGYN or Midwife.
Few Vaccine Restrictions Related to Nursing
In general, there will be few restrictions on which vaccines you should receive while you are nursing. But there are some rare exceptions, most notably the Yellow Fever and Smallpox vaccines.
Talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about which vaccines you should avoid–if any–after your baby is born and while you are nursing.
Immunizations Recommended in Pregnancy
There are several immunizations during pregnancy that are recommended. Your OBGYN or Midwife will likely want to schedule the following.
The influenza vaccine–sometimes called the flu shot–is almost always recommended for those who become pregnant. Because the flu virus mutates so rapidly, the flu shot changes every year. Scientists try to anticipate which flu strains will be prominent and build the vaccine to combat those particular mutations.
Which means that the flu shot won’t always be 100% effective. But even in off years, the protection provided by the shot can reduce your risk of developing severe symptoms. When you’re pregnant, influenza is more likely to cause severe symptoms, so the more protection you can get the better.
The TDAP shot provides protection against three diseases in one shot. TDAP stands for: it stands for Tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis. One of the most important aspects of this vaccine is that it can grant both you and your baby immunity to pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough.
Whooping cough is a highly infectious respiratory disease. Before the invention of the vaccine, this ailment was known to be particularly dangerous to infants in the first few months of life. Whooping cough has not been eradicated, so protecting your infant is recommended. Your OBGYN or Midwife will typically recommend you get a TDAP Vaccine between weeks 27 and 36 for maximum effectiveness.
RhoGAM injections are not vaccines, per se–but they are treatments that will prevent complications and negative outcomes. Here’s how it works: Most people have a substance called Rh in their blood. But some don’t. Those people that don’t are called “Rh-negative.” When someone who is Rh negative encounters Rh-positive blood, their immune system goes into defense mode. This can cause significant and even life-threatening consequences.
For pregnant women who are Rh-negative, there’s a possibility that the birthing process will expose you to your baby’s Rh-positive blood. A RhoGAM injection uses a specially formulated human plasma dose to provide protection against Rh-positive blood. You may only need RhoGAM if you are Rh-negative, and these immunizations during pregnancy can successfully prevent negative outcomes. If you aren’t sure of your Rh status, talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about possible risk factors.
There are several variations of the COVID-19 vaccine, the most popular of which are produced by Moderna or Pfizer. These are both mRNA vaccines that provide significant protection with minimal risk. Even when you’re pregnant, there is a very low risk of serious complications from either of these vaccines.
The same cannot be said of COVID-19 itself, which can present elevated risks for severe symptoms for pregnant individuals. That’s why your OBGYN or Midwife will recommend that you make sure your COVID-19 vaccinations are up to date. For most people, this will also involve getting a booster shot to ensure your immunity to COVID is maximized.
What’s the Best Timing for Immunizations While Pregnant?
Your OBGYN and Midwife will work with you to develop a vaccine schedule if necessary. That way, you’ll know when you should be getting each vaccination. The schedule will be considered and discussed in a way that optimizes your protection and any possible benefit your infant might receive from the vaccines (such as with the TDAP vaccine).
Vaccines are a powerful tool that can help prevent infection and disease in both pregnant individuals and infants. When you’re pregnant, you have to be a little more careful about vaccines. But that’s why it’s important to ask your OBGYN or Midwife about the immunizations recommended in pregnancy.