What vaccinations do I need during pregnancy?

pregnant woman vaccine

When you are pregnant, there are certain vaccinations you need in order to help protect you and your baby from serious diseases. During pregnancy, your immune system is lower than usual, meaning it's less able to fight disease. If you are planning to become pregnant you should also make sure you are up to date with all vaccinations especially rubella (MMR)

How do vaccines work?

Your body has its own defence system (the immune system) which fights disease. Vaccines help this system develop protective antibodies when it is able to do so as effectively (e.g. during pregnancy). These antibodies fight immediate disease and protect against future disease.

Antibodies developed while you are pregnant pass to the foetus and help protect the baby during their first few months after birth.

If you are vaccinated against a particular disease that you are later exposed to, your body will respond to the infection more quickly. In instances where a vaccination doesn't prevent a disease altogether, it may make the illness less serious.

What vaccinations do I need during pregnancy?

Pregnant women are strongly advised to have vaccinations against influenza, or flu, and pertussis, or whooping cough.

Flu vaccination for pregnant women

What is flu?

Flu can be a serious infection for pregnant women and their babies. Pregnant women should have a flu vaccine during each pregnancy. The flu vaccine is free of charge for pregnant women. It can be given at any stage of pregnancy and as early as possible in the flu season.

Why is flu more serious in pregnancy?

During pregnancy, your immune system is naturally weakened to ensure that your pregnancy is successful. As a result, you may be less able to fight off infections – so you are more at risk if you get flu. As your baby grows, you usually aren't able breathe as deeply, increasing the risk of infections such as pneumonia.

Flu can be especially serious during late pregnancy and if there are other risk factors such as diabetes.

Why should I get the vaccination while pregnant?

Flu can be serious for unborn and newborn babies and can lead to premature birth, low birth weight, stillbirth or even death in the first weeks of life.

If you have the vaccination during pregnancy your baby will also develop some immunity to flu as antibodies are passed from you to your baby though the placenta. This will provide some protection during the first few months of life. As you will continue to be protected throughout the flu season, you are less likely to catch flu and pass it on to your baby once it has been born.

What does vaccination involve?

pregnant woman vaccine

The flu vaccination is an injection into the arm. It is usually available from the end of September and is free for pregnant women.

It is safe to have at any time in pregnancy and takes around 14 days to provide protection.

The side effects of the flu vaccine are mild compared to the disease itself and are seen in all people, not just pregnant women. Soreness and redness at the injection site are most common. You may also get a headache, muscle aches, fever or tiredness; these usually last for a day or two after the vaccination as it starts to work.

You will need a flu vaccination every time you are pregnant during any flu season.

Is the flu vaccination safe for pregnant women?

The flu vaccines offered to pregnant women contain only killed (inactivated) flu viruses and cannot cause flu. Studies show that inactivated flu vaccines can be safely and effectively administered during all stages of pregnancy for both mother and baby.

What should I do if I think I have caught flu?

Contact your GP urgently and say that you are pregnant. There is a medicine that you can take that can help relieve some of the symptoms, but you need to take it as soon as possible after symptoms start for it to work.

The best way of protecting yourself and your baby against flu is to have the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, usually from around late September, and before flu starts circulating. However, you can still have the vaccine at any time during the winter season especially if you have recently found out that you are pregnant .

The best way of protecting yourself and your baby against flu is to have the vaccine before the start of the flu season, usually around September, but you can still have the vaccine at any time during the winter season.

Whooping cough vaccination for pregnant women

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease that can be very serious for babies under one year old. Most young babies with whooping cough will be admitted to hospital.

Whooping cough can cause long bursts of coughing and choking making it hard to breathe.

The 'whoop' noise is caused by gasping for breath after each burst of coughing. Young babies don't always make this sound so it can be difficult to recognise.

Whooping cough commonly lasts for around two to three months. For young babies it can lead to pneumonia and permanent brain damage. In the worst cases, it can cause death.

Other complications of the infection include:

  • temporary pauses in breathing as a result of severe difficulty with breathing
  • weight loss due to excessive vomiting
  • seizures or brain damage
  • encephalitis (swelling of the brain)

Why do I need the whooping cough vaccine?

pregnant woman vaccine

In 2012 there was an increase in the number of people getting whooping cough in the UK. 400 of these were babies under three months of age and, of these, 14 babies died.

To help prevent more deaths, a whooping cough vaccination programme for pregnant women started during 2012. You will be offered the whooping cough vaccine by your GP or maternity services from your 16th week of pregnancy.

Your body will produce antibodies to whooping cough which are passed through the placenta to your baby. Your baby then has some protection against whooping cough when it is born. This protection will wear off and your baby should have their whooping cough vaccine at eight weeks of age and complete the full course of three vaccines.

When should I get vaccinated?

The best time to get vaccinated to protect your baby is from the 16th week of your pregnancy or soon after your mid-pregnancy scan, which is usually between 18 and 20 weeks.

If you miss the recommended time you can have the vaccine any time in your pregnancy but the best time to have it is between 16 and 32 weeks. You can still have the vaccine in late pregnancy but it may not be as effective. The vaccine is a single injection in your arm.

Because protection from whooping cough vaccine wears off over time, you should have the vaccine even if you had it when you were younger or if you have had whooping cough, and have the vaccination for each pregnancy.

The whooping cough vaccine can be given at the same time as the flu vaccine but you should not wait until the winter season to have them together.

Your baby will get the best protection if you have the vaccine after the 16th week of your pregnancy.

If you haven't heard from your GP surgery or midwife, you should make an appointment to have the vaccination at your earliest opportunity.

What are the benefits for my baby?

The only way to protect your baby from getting whooping cough in the first two months of life is by having the whooping cough vaccine yourself. The protection that you will get from the vaccine passes to your baby through the placenta and protects your baby from whooping cough until they are old enough to have their own vaccine.

Is the whooping cough vaccine safe for pregnant women?

Studies have shown the whooping cough vaccine is very safe for you and your baby.

You may have some of the common mild side effects. These include: swelling, redness and tenderness at the injection site.

As there is no single whooping cough vaccine available, the vaccine also contains protection against tetanus, polio and diphtheria. All of these parts of the vaccine are killed (inactivated) and can be safely given in pregnancy.

What vaccines do I need before and after pregnancy?

If you are trying to conceive, you should make sure you are up to date with all vaccinations.

Rubella vaccine for pregnant women

Catching rubella during pregnancy can be very serious for your baby, causing a condition called congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). CRS can lead to deafness, blindness, cataracts (eye problems) or even heart problems. It can also result in the death of the baby or the possibility of a termination.

You will be protected from rubella if you have ever had two doses of a rubella-containing vaccine (eg rubella, measles-rubella or measles-mumps-rubella in school as a child, or at your GP surgery).

If you are not sure whether you have had the vaccine, you can check with your GP surgery.

Ideally you should have had two doses of a rubella containing vaccine before you become pregnant. If you have not, then measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) can be given up to one month before pregnancy.

MMR is a live (weakened) vaccine so is not given during pregnancy. Although there is no evidence that having the MMR vaccine during pregnancy causes harm to babies, it is recommended that you wait to have it until after your baby is born.

pregnant woman vaccine list

Why do I need the MMR vaccination after pregnancy?

This will protect you and your baby in any future pregnancy and give you longer term protection against measles, mumps and rubella. You will need two doses of the vaccine if you haven't had it before.

Your practice nurse will give the first vaccine at the same time as your post-natal check and will give the second dose a month later. You should avoid becoming pregnant for one month after the vaccinations, so you need to have a reliable method of contraception.

If you are not sure if you have had MMR vaccination, you can check with your GP surgery at your post-natal check.

Can I breastfeed my baby following vaccinations?

Yes, it is safe to breastfeed your baby after you have had MMR, flu and whooping cough vaccinations. In fact, if you have the whooping cough vaccine while you are pregnant, your breastmilk will have protective antibodies in it so you can continue to share your protection with your baby by breastfeeding.

How can I get the vaccines I need?

Your GP surgery will be able to offer you any of the vaccines you need. Some antenatal clinics also offer flu and whooping cough vaccination and some pharmacies offer flu vaccination.

What should I do if I come in contact with someone with a rash, or if I have a rash?

You must let your midwife, GP or obstetrician know immediately if you have a rash or have any contact with another person with a rash at any time during your pregnancy.

You should avoid any antenatal clinic, maternity setting or other pregnant women until you have been assessed.

Any illness where you have a fever and a rash may be due to you having an infectious disease which could harm your unborn baby. You may be offered tests to find out if you have been infected. The health professional that assesses you will need to know:

  • how many weeks pregnant you are
  • when the contact with someone with a rash illness was
  • the date that you first developed or had contact with someone with a rash
  • a description of the rash (is it a raised, bumpy rash or is it blisters filled with fluid?)
  • what infections you have had in the past eg chicken pox, measles
  • what vaccinations you have previously had

Other vaccines to discuss with your midwife

Hepatitis B

At birth, babies born to mothers who have the hepatitis B infection should have the hepatitis B vaccine as soon as they are born.

Arrangements should be made with your GP surgery for your baby to have further doses of vaccine and a blood test when he or she is one year old to test for infection.

BCG

Babies born to a parent (or who have a grandparent) from a country where TB is common should have BCG vaccine to protect them from TB.

What Mumsnetters say about vaccines during pregnancy:

“I nearly died of flu when I was pregnant with my youngest. I'd definitely say get it done!”

“I had the flu vaccine in my last pregnancy (only last year) and had no side effects from it. I've booked in to have it again with this pregnancy.”

“I will be getting my flu vaccine – why risk the serious consequences of full blown flu just because I might feel a bit rundown after the jab?”

“I had the flu and whooping cough vaccines done. I weighed up the options and thought it would be safer for my baby.”