Editor’s note: This article was updated in October 2021 to include COVID-19 vaccine information.
Beyond pure excitement, or sometimes nausea and fatigue, once you learn you are pregnant, you also may have many questions. One question may be about whether vaccinating during pregnancy is healthy and safe.
Before and after pregnancy, it is important to keep your immune system strong. It also is important to provide a boost to your baby’s immune system by providing antibodies through vaccinations.
“Newborns cannot get many vaccines until 2-6 months,” said Abbey Rose, certified nurse midwife at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “You can protect both you and your baby’s health is by staying up-to-date on vaccinations.”
What vaccines are safe during pregnancy?
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a pregnant woman should be vaccinated against whooping cough, influenza and COVID-19 during each pregnancy to protect her and the baby.
However, Rose explains there are vaccinations that should be avoided during pregnancy. Those vaccinations are live-attenuated viruses, which include nasal spray flu vaccine, the varicella (chicken pox) vaccine and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
“If you are in need of these vaccinations, it is recommended and safe to receive those during your postpartum period,” Rose said.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can be a serious illness for anyone, especially a newborn. By getting the Tdap vaccine during pregnancy, your body will produce protective antibodies and pass those onto your baby to protect them for the first few months of life.
CDC recommends getting your whooping cough vaccine during the 27th through 36th week of each pregnancy.
Also during pregnancy, you are at a higher risk for complications with influenza. No new mom wants to be sick while pregnant, and influenza can lead to changes in immune, heart and lung functions during pregnancy.
“Preterm labor and birth also can be a complication of influenza during pregnancy,” Rose said. “Pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized if seasonal influenza is contracted.”
Get the flu shot by the end of October to protect yourself and your baby against influenza-related complications.
Just like Tdap, getting the flu vaccine can protect a baby from influenza after birth because you can pass protective antibodies. This is good protection for your newborn because children are not recommended to get a flu shot until 6 months.
Although it is recommended by the end of October, public health officials and experts, including the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM), continue to recommend the flu vaccination for pregnant women as long as virus is circulating, usually well into spring. A flu vaccine is safe to be administered during any trimester of pregnancy.
According to CDC, pregnant women are at high risk for having severe respiratory complications from the virus that could include ICU admission, a need for mechanical ventilation, death and preterm birth.
To protect yourself against the virus and severe illness, the COVID-19 vaccine is available for all pregnant, breastfeeding and pumping women.
CDC continues to monitor COVID-19 vaccine safety in pregnant women and vaccine manufacturers are currently conducting clinical trials to assess safety and vaccine immune response in pregnant women. This information is added to the fact that many other vaccines are safely given to pregnant women every day.
Side effects of vaccines
Evidence shows that flu vaccines can be given safely during pregnancy. Multiple studies have shown that women who have gotten flu shots during pregnancy have not had a higher risk for miscarriage. One of the largest and strongest studies found no increased risk for miscarriage after flu vaccination during pregnancy. The large study was completed as a follow up to a study that had several limitations, according to CDC, which showed a potential association between miscarriage and flu vaccination early in pregnancy. CDC stated that a small sample size in a study can lead to imprecise results.
Although proven to be safe during pregnancy, you may experience mild side effects after receiving a vaccination like the flu vaccine. Rose said some side effects include a sore arm or low-grade fever, but those should go away after a day or two. Severe side effects and reactions are rare.
Talk to your provider
If you are pregnant, talk to your women’s health provider about what vaccines are best for you during and after pregnancy.