I know how important a strong immune system is, and that’s why breastfeeding my little one was not up for discussion.
I know antibodies are passed onto my baby through my breast milk, and although formula is a great alternative, I had to do the best for my little one.
Oddly enough, I didn’t think too deeply about improving on providing a strong immune system for my unborn baby.
I recently discovered that whooping cough could be fatal to a newborn regardless of being healthy. The big issue is that newborn babies cannot be vaccinated within the first two months of life, and this small window of time can be very punishing to unprepared mothers.
Vaccines are an essential part of good health but can a pregnant mom get vaccinated on behalf of their little one? I looked into this and educated myself in the process. Here is what I discovered.
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What is whooping cough?
The signs and symptoms of whooping cough caught my attention because, in the early stages, they resemble a common cold.
The normal runny nose, congestion, red, watery eyes, possible fever, and of course, all the coughing are synonymous with a cold.
However, it gets a lot worse after a week or so, with thick mucus developing in your airway.
This triggers uncontrollable coughing that sometimes ends with a whooping sound, hence the name. It can lead to vomiting but what is common is the restriction on breathing that may cause some infants to stop breathing altogether.
Whooping cough or pertussis, as it is known, is a highly contagious bacterial respiratory infection. Although deaths from whooping cough are rare, the majority of deaths occur among infants who have no immunity and are not yet old enough to receive the vaccine.
People of all ages with weak or compromised immune systems will be among the first to contract this deadly disease.
Passing on immunity
Mothers naturally play a vital role in the health of their unborn child and young infants through passing on immunity through the placenta to their unborn baby and through breast milk after birth.
Urbanization has reduced the proximity of living and movement space. Examples of this are high-rise buildings and crowded public transport where people literally live and commute on top of each other. This presents challenges to contain any type of contagious viral or bacterial infections.
The Covid-19 pandemic shows just fast; a contagious disease can spread among dense population groups.
Now, whooping cough may not be as deadly as Covid-19, but it is just as infectious, and infants too young to get the vaccine are at great risk of contracting the disease.
According to medical research, pregnant mothers can safely have a whooping cough vaccine during their pregnancy, passing on immunity to their unborn babies.
All clinical trials indicate that the unborn child will not be negatively affected by the vaccine. Although clinical trials hardly ever involve pregnant women for ethical reasons, medical researchers have used data to confirm their findings.
Vaccine Or treatment
We’ve seen first-hand with Covid-19 vaccines that not all people are pro-vaccination. There are many mothers who just point-blank refuse to vaccinate themselves or their children.
Many reasons are cited, and some may use their faith as a reason, while others get caught up in mixed messaging and so-called conspiracy theories.
Whatever the reason not to vaccinate, the unvaccinated will have to rely on treatment if infected with whatever vaccine they refused would have possibly prevented. But is treatment always the better option?
Infants younger than three months are prone to infections as their immune systems are still weak. With time the immune system develops and strengthens, but to do this, it must build resistance to conditions by being exposed to them.
The immune system identifies foreign substances or antigens, creating antibodies to fight and get rid of the invaders. This is how immunity works.
Treatments help the immune system fight antigens and restore health. Vaccines do exactly the same thing but in a preventative manner. A vaccine is like a skydiver checking to make sure his parachute is packed correctly before he even boards the aircraft. Vaccines are designed to prevent unwanted illness.
Think about the role of treatments versus the role of vaccines. They both promote good health, but one prevents possible illness while the other cures specific illnesses. What is different is the risk attached to prevention (vaccines) and treatments.
As a mother, I know the feeling that mothers get when dealing with a sick child, and to me, logic prevails; I prefer prevention to the stresses that come with a sick child and treatment that may or may not work.
We are not always sure that a specific treatment or medication will work, and there is always the chance of a relapse. Nothing is really guaranteed as far as health is concerned.
A vaccine is a well-researched and tested preventative measure against a serious or life-threatening disease. It safely introduces your body to the condition without risk. In addition, your body will create antibodies to the condition that will remain part of your immune system for a long while.
Pros and cons of the whooping cough vaccine
Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can be deadly to infants younger than three months old.
The first vaccination is at two months old, but it will take about two weeks for immunity to build up, so the first three months of a child’s life offer little immunity besides the antibodies passed on by mom.
Vaccines for infants start working two weeks after the first vaccine, but full immunity will only be after the complete sequence of vaccines:
- First shot at 2 months old
- Second shot at 4 months old
- Third shot at 6 months old
Immunity will only last for a period of one year. After that, additional shots are required at 15-18 months and 4-6 years old.
In the U.S., there are two different types of vaccines that prevent whooping cough called DTap for children under 7 years old and Tdap for older children and adults. Both help to prevent whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria.
Immunity is not 100% guaranteed, but if an immunized baby contracts whooping cough, the condition may not be as severe.
- Whooping cough vaccines are safe for all people over two months old.
- Added protection against tetanus and diphtheria.
- Pregnant women can get vaccinated against whooping cough between week 27 and week 36 that will provide early immunity for their baby in their first two and a half months of life.
- Immunity through vaccines prevents serious infection, but caution must still be taken to avoid spreading the infection regardless of vaccination status.
- Fewer vaccinated children suffer from apnea, blue colouration of the skin and vomiting.
- Awareness is growing, and more people are relying on prevention as opposed to treatment.
- Vaccinated children are 8 times less likely to contract whooping cough than unvaccinated children.
- Immunity wears off, and booster shots are necessary every ten years throughout life.
- DTaP vaccines are only 80% to 90% effective.
- Higher circulation of the bacteria means higher infection rates, and the vaccine or booster shots offer limited protection.
- Whooping cough bacteria are changing genetically, but so far, the vaccines are still effective.
- Herd immunity does not prevent the spread of whooping cough, nor does the vaccine.
Is a whooping cough vaccination necessary for every pregnancy?
Yes. According to the CDC and other medical institutes, it is advisable for pregnant women to have the vaccine during each pregnancy. This will protect their newborn baby until they are old enough to receive their own vaccines. Read more in this article.
When is a whooping cough vaccination not advised for a pregnant woman?
If a woman has had a whooping cough vaccine just before she fell pregnant, getting a shot later in her pregnancy may not be necessary. It’s best to check with your doctor just to be sure about the exact time frame.
Why is protecting babies from whooping cough such a focused issue?
Fatalities from whooping cough are mostly among newborn infants. Besides being fatal, whooping cough can cause brain damage as well as continued respiratory problems.
Until the first vaccine at two-month-old this window without protection puts infants at great risk. Find out more in this article.
Whooping cough is dangerous for infants younger than two months old. But if a pregnant woman gets the vaccine during her pregnancy, she will be able to pass on vital antibodies to her unborn child, offering much-needed protection during the first two critical months of her child’s life.
Somehow, people tend to trust fixing problems when and if they arise. In this case, whooping cough can be fatal to infants without immunity, and the risk involved should be considered. It may help to see vaccinations as an early treatment instead of a violation of your freedom of choice.
There are no recorded fatalities as a direct result of the whooping cough vaccine, nor are there any recorded pregnancy complications due to the vaccine.
These facts alone should convince parents that there is no real difference between prevention and treatment besides the order.
First, you try prevention, and if that fails, then treatment may have a better chance of success. Second, speak to your doctor about any vaccine-related concerns.