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Vaccinations for Pregnancy – What is Needed, When and Why

In my 35 years as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, I have not seen the issue of vaccination elevated to the level of prominence it is enjoying right now. In my profession it is a good thing – discussions about COVID-19 and a preventative vaccine have prompted many of my patients to query their vaccination schedule, in a bid to ensure the health of their baby.

Generally speaking, vaccinations tend to be a grey area for most expecting mums, and it is easy to see why. For most women, the focus is on falling pregnant as opposed to preparing to fall pregnant, and by the time they see their doctor for a referral to an obstetrician or maternity carer, many learn there are immunisations and/or boosters recommended for women before they conceive.

In the brief bullet points below, which are in line with recommendations from the Australian Government Department of Health, I hope to provide some clarity around which vaccinations are needed when and why, to make the process easier for mums and mums-to-be to navigate. It is important that you speak to your doctor as a first port of call to assess your vaccination needs.

Immunisations for pregnancy

Pregnant women should have immunity against hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, whooping cough, and influenza (not novel Coronavirus of course – hopefully soon). This is in addition to routine immunisations such as tetanus and polio.

Pre-pregnancy immunisations

Before you fall pregnant you should look at updating the following:

  • Measles, mumps and rubella: Rubella is a critical one here, as infection can cause serious defects in unborn babies. It is recommended that you wait four weeks after receiving the Rubella vaccine before trying to get pregnant.
  • Chickenpox (varicella): Chickenpox infection during pregnancy can cause severe illness in a mother and her unborn child. Like Rubella, it is recommended that you wait four weeks after receiving this vaccine before trying to get pregnant and if you are not already vaccinated against chickenpox, speak to your doctor about receiving two doses of the vaccine for full immunity.
  • Pneumococcal: This vaccination is recommended for smokers and people with chronic heart, lung or kidney disease, or diabetes. It provides protection against serious illness caused by pneumococcal disease, which can affect the lungs, ears, sinuses, and brain and can often lead to pneumonia.
  • Travel vaccinations: Overseas travel is obviously off limits for the time being so I doubt women who are expecting a baby will need these vaccinations in coming months. For more information on travel vaccinations, see the Department of Health website.

Immunisations that are safe during pregnancy

Vaccinations for influenza and whooping cough (pertussis) are the only immunisations which are considered safe to have during pregnancy.

  • Whooping cough, or pertussis, can cause serious illness and even death in babies less than six months old. The whooping cough vaccine is recommended for all pregnant women as a single dose between 20 and 32 weeks and is free of charge in most states.
  • Flu (influenza): For pregnant women, the risk of serious complications from the flu are up to five times higher than normal. Because of this, the flu vaccine is recommended and free for all pregnant women in Australia.

Remember, getting the flu vaccine during your pregnancy will also provide ongoing protection to your newborn for the first six months after birth, and getting vaccinated every year protects you and your family against new strains of the virus.

Importantly, in lieu of a vaccine for COVID-19, pregnant women can best protect themselves and their baby by staying at home as much as possible, practicing good hand hygiene, and keeping their distance from those who are sick. Ensuring the health of your unborn child also means making the best choices when it comes to diet, exercise and consulting with specialists.

On that note, if you have any questions about vaccinations, or are interested in booking a prenatal health check-up, be sure to contact your GP or obstetrician who are there to support you throughout all stages of your pregnancy journey.

Note: I am aware that vaccinations can be a contentious issue between those who believe in them and those that do not. It is the choice of the mother and parents as to whether or not they opt to vaccinate themselves and their children, however I, like many other health professionals, believe it is for the greater good of the community.

Guest Author: Dr Ian Hill – Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Royal Prince Alfred and Prince of Wales Hospitals

About Dr Ian Hill

Dr Ian Hill is an experienced obstetrician and gynaecologist practicing in the inner west and eastern suburbs of Sydney. He specialises in high-risk obstetrics, top level pre-, ante- and post-natal care, and routine gynaecology covering all aspects of women’s reproductive health. He has practices at both Royal Prince Alfred and Prince of Wales Private hospitals.

Website: Phone: 02 9519 8929

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