Vaccines During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

pregnant bellyCongratulations on your pregnancy! You're eating right, getting extra rest and taking your prenatal vitamins. After all, you want to do everything you can to ensure a healthy baby! But have you given any thought to protecting yourself and your baby against infection?

It's important. That's why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has specific recommendations for pregnant and breastfeeding women (see chart below). The committee notes that there is no evidence of risk to your developing baby if you are vaccinated with an inactivated viral or bacterial vaccine while pregnant. In either case, the committee notes, the "benefits of vaccinating pregnant women usually outweigh the potential risks when the likelihood of disease exposure is high, when infection would pose a risk to the mother or fetus, and when the vaccine is unlikely to cause harm."

The chart provides the committee's recommendations for vaccines during pregnancy. In this article, however, we focus on one specific vaccine: the flu vaccine. For while the ACIP lists five vaccines that can be given during pregnancy, only one is "recommended": the influenza vaccine. The other four—hepatitis B, tetanus-diphtheria, meningococcal and rabies—are options if you have been or could be exposed to the disease.

So what makes the flu vaccine so special? Well, you're much more likely to be exposed to influenza in any given year than meningitis or rabies—other viral illnesses for which vaccines exist. Plus, pregnancy-related changes in your immune and respiratory systems increase your vulnerability to the flu virus. And if you do get the flu while you're pregnant, you're more likely to be hospitalized with complications. Another good reason to get vaccinated against the flu is that a recent study found that your vaccine could protect your baby during his or her first five months—when infants can't receive a flu vaccine, yet when they are very vulnerable to flu-related complications.

Plus, unlike many vaccines, we have some fairly good evidence that the inactive, injectable form of the vaccine is very safe for pregnant women and their fetuses.

But you're not the only one who needs a vaccine. The people around you should also get a flu vaccine this season. That reduces the risk that they'll catch the flu and bring it home to you or your newborn. So let's sort out the what, why and when of flu vaccines.