Pregnancy & Vaccines: Everything You Need To Know

During pregnancy, you are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from influenza (flu) and other infections. One of the best things you can do during this time is to get vaccinated. Vaccinations are a safe and effective way to protect yourself and your baby during pregnancy. They also protect your baby after birth until a safe vaccination can be given.

What vaccines do I need?

Two vaccines are specifically recommended for expecting mothers: The seasonal flu vaccine and the tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine.

The flu vaccine protects you against seasonal types of influenza. When you are pregnant, your immune system is weaker and your heart and lungs begin to work harder to support both you and your growing baby. Because of this extra strain, expecting mothers who get influenza are at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill and are more likely to go into premature labor and delivery. After birth, babies who get influenza can develop other illnesses, such as pneumonia. Babies born to vaccinated mothers are one-third less likely to get sick with influenza than babies of unvaccinated mothers.

The Tdap vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). Whooping cough is a serious disease that can make it difficult for babies to breathe. Newborns also can develop a cough with a distinct “whoop” sound. Whooping cough can be life threatening, and reports of whooping cough infections have increased during the past several years. During 2014-2016, 61 whooping cough infections in young infants (under 1 year in age) were reported in New York City (NYC); five of the infants had to be hospitalized. Most of the mothers of the infected infants did not get the Tdap vaccine during pregnancy.

In addition to getting vaccinations for the flu and Tdap, being up to date on other routine adult vaccines—such as for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), and varicella (chickenpox)—is important before you become pregnant. You can ask your primary healthcare provider for more information about routine adult vaccines, or see our resources listed below.

When should I get vaccinated?

Expecting mothers can get the flu vaccine during any trimester and should get vaccinated as soon as the seasonal vaccine is available. Getting vaccinated early in influenza season is important because your body needs about two weeks to develop immunity. The flu vaccine is updated annually to protect against different strains of the virus. That’s why getting vaccinated every year is important, especially if you are pregnant.

Pregnant females should receive the Tdap vaccine in the third trimester of every pregnancy, preferably at 27–36 weeks gestation. Getting vaccinated in the third trimester allows your body to create and pass on disease-fighting antibodies to your baby, providing short-term protection until your baby can be safely vaccinated at two months of age. This timing is important because babies younger than 6 months are more likely to have health problems or to be hospitalized with whooping cough.

How safe are the flu and Tdap vaccines?

Both the flu and Tdap vaccines are extremely safe and effective. These vaccines do not contain live viruses and cannot make you or your baby sick. Most side effects are mild and usually go away within 1-2 days. Common side effects can include redness, swelling, or pain where the shot is given. Severe side effects from the vaccines for flu and Tdap are very rare.

Where can I get the flu and Tdap vaccines?

If you are pregnant, ask your healthcare provider, obstetrician/gynecologist, nurse, or midwife about getting the flu and Tdap vaccines. If you are aged 18 years or older, you can get both vaccines without a prescription at many pharmacies. Both vaccines are also available at no, or low, cost at NYC’s walk-in immunization clinic in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. For information on where to get vaccines for flu and Tdap, check the NYC Health Map, call 311, or talk to your primary healthcare provider. 

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Note: The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jennifer Noyes, CDC Public Health Associate, is in her second year of the Public Health Associate Program (PHAP) with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is stationed at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she actively works on projects in the Adult Immunization and Perinatal Hepatitis B Prevention units.