Whooping cough is a serious disease that can be deadly for babies. Unfortunately, babies do not start building their own protection against whooping cough until they begin vaccinations at two months old. Avoid this gap in protection by getting the Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of your pregnancy. By doing so, you pass high levels of antibodies to your baby before birth. These antibodies help protect your baby against whooping cough in the first months of life.
CDC recommends all women receive a Tdap vaccine during the 27th through 36th week of each pregnancy, preferably during the earlier part of this time period. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Nurse-Midwives support this recommendation.
Getting Tdap during pregnancy passes protection to your baby
After receiving a Tdap vaccine, your body creates protective antibodies and passes some of them to your baby before birth. These antibodies provide your baby some short-term protection against whooping cough in early life. These antibodies can also protect your baby from some of the more serious complications, including hospitalization, that come along with whooping cough.
Your protective antibodies are at their highest about 2 weeks after getting the vaccine, but it takes time to pass them to your baby. So the preferred time to get a Tdap vaccine is early in your third trimester.
The amount of whooping cough antibodies in your body decreases over time. That is why CDC recommends you get a Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy. Doing so allows each of your babies to get the greatest number of protective antibodies from you. This means each of your babies will get the best protection possible against this disease.
Vaccination during pregnancy offers the best protection
When women get a Tdap vaccine while pregnant, their babies have better protection against whooping cough than babies whose mothers did not get vaccinated during pregnancy. Getting Tdap between 27 through 36 weeks of pregnancy is 78% more effective at preventing whooping cough in babies younger than 2 months old.
If you did not get Tdap during pregnancy and you have never received it before, you can get it in the hospital or birthing center. It will take about 2 weeks before your body develops protection (antibodies) in response to the vaccine. Once you have protection from the vaccine, you are less likely to give whooping cough to your newborn while caring for him. But remember, your baby will still be at risk for catching whooping cough from others.
Safe for You, Your Baby
A Tdap vaccine is very safe for pregnant women and their babies. You cannot get whooping cough from a Tdap vaccine. Getting the vaccine during your pregnancy will not put you at increased risk for pregnancy complications. Learn more about safety and side effects.
Blood tests cannot tell if you need a Tdap vaccine
Although we do have blood tests that can measure pertussis antibodies in your body, it is unknown the level of antibodies needed to protect yourself or your baby against whooping cough. Even if you have been sick with whooping cough in the past or previously received the vaccine, protection against pertussis is not lifelong and you still should get the vaccine during each pregnancy.
Breastfeeding may pass some protective antibodies onto your baby
By breastfeeding, you may pass some antibodies you have made in response to the vaccine to your baby. When you get a whooping cough vaccine during your pregnancy, you will have antibodies in your breast milk that you can share with your baby as soon as your milk comes in. However, if you do not get the whooping cough vaccine until after delivering your baby, your baby will not get protective antibodies immediately. This is because it takes about 2 weeks for your body to create antibodies. Learn more about the health benefits of breastfeeding.
Note from Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine and a member of HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council. Tdap is a combination vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. We recommend reviewing your vaccination history with your Ob-gyn at your preconception visit.
Skoff TH, Blain AE, Watt J, et al. Impact of the US maternal tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis vaccination program on preventing pertussis in infants . Clin Infect Dis. 2017;65(12):1977–83.