What jabs should you have while you’re expecting?
By Sally J. Hall
When you’re pregnant, you can’t take many over-the-counter or prescription medicines to avoid damaging your baby. But when there is a potentially infectious virus around, what’s the best advice? Should you have jabs or avoid them?
Best time to have it: between 20 and 32 weeks
Though you’re not at much risk of catching whooping cough (pertussis) yourself, your baby may be at risk in the first few weeks of life if you do not have the vaccine.
Dr Ge Zhang (PhD, MRCOG, MSc, MBBS, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at The Lindo Wing, St Mary’s Hospital London, says: “Whooping cough is a serious condition which can cause long bursts of coughing and breathing difficulties. In a baby, this may lead to pneumonia, brain damage or even death.
“To prevent whooping cough, pregnant mothers are advised to have the vaccine from around the 20th week of their pregnancy.
“The whooping cough vaccine is an inactivated vaccine and safe for pregnancy. Vaccines cause the body to develop antibodies, which can be passed to the unborn baby and protect them in the first few months of life.”
Best time to have it: October to February
You may have had flu many times but pregnant women are more at risk of complications (bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, septic shock, meningitis and encephalitis among others).
Dr Zhang says: “The flu vaccine can be given at any time during the pregnancy. These are inactivated vaccines and safe for you during pregnancy.”
Best time to have it: early in pregnancy or ideally before conception
If you have become exposed to the Hepatitis B virus, through injecting drugs, having several sexual partners, or being exposed to infected blood, you should try to have the vaccine before you try to conceive. If that wasn’t possible, you can still have the vaccine.
There are no risks to you of having the vaccine but if you don’t, Dr Zhang explains: “Babies born to the mother of Hepatitis B need to have the vaccination at birth or within 12 hours after their birth; and then further doses at one, two and 12 months.”
What to avoid
Dr Zhang advises: “The MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubel- la) and chicken pox vaccines are live, which should be avoided during pregnancy. If you are not immune to rubel- la, you will be offered the first dose of the MMR vaccination after the birth or at your six week post-natal check. The second dose is given four weeks after the first dose.
“It is safe to breastfeed after having the vaccine.”
Jimmy Whitworth, Professor of International Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, says: “Zika virus can cause microcephaly and other serious birth defects. The epidemic in Latin America has subsided but there is still transmission occurring in tropical areas. There is no vaccine, so pregnant women or those planning pregnancy should postpone travel to countries with a high risk (the Caribbean, central and south America, Rajasthan). Consider deferring travel to moderate risk countries. If you do travel, follow public health advice; use condoms for barrier contraception while away and for two months after, as the virus can sometimes be transmitted sexually. Travellers to Zika areas should avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent and wearing loose, long-sleeved shirts and trousers.”