Vaccination During Pregnancy Guide

A guide on how to best protect the mother and unborn child with vaccinations.

Immunisation Coalition

About Pregnancy and Vaccinations

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable and should receive the influenza vaccine, and the whooping cough vaccine, to protect themselves and their baby. As the immune system is naturally suppressed during pregnancy, they face an increased chance of contracting influenza and associated complications.

Influenza and whooping cough (pertussis) are serious illnesses that can affect both mother and baby. Influenza and whooping cough vaccination can help keep mothers and babies healthy and protect the newborn in the first 6 months of life.

This 2019 Vaccination during pregnancy guide is available to download as a PDF.


Whooping Cough Vaccination During Pregnancy

Whooping cough is a highly infectious bacterial disease that causes severe bouts of coughing. In adults, the symptoms can be mild, but for a baby who is not yet vaccinated, it can be life threatening.

Vaccination during pregnancy (preferably at 28 weeks) means the body produces antibodies that are passed on to the baby before birth.

These antibodies will protect the baby until they are able to receive their own vaccination at 6 weeks of age.

Studies have found that whooping cough vaccination during pregnancy is safe and effective for both mother and baby.

Studies from the US and UK involving more than 40,000 pregnant women found only mild side effects such as pain or redness in the arm where the vaccination was given. It does not increase the risk of serious pregnancy complications such as premature birth. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has recently updated recommendations for pregnant women to be vaccinated in their third trimester.

Influenza Vaccination During Pregnancy

How does the influenza affect mother and baby?

Influenza is a potentially severe disease that can affect mother and baby. It can affect the mother in the second and third trimesters and the baby in the first few months after birth, even causing death. 

What is the risk?

In Australia up to 3500 people die every year of influenza and tens of thousands are hospitalised due to influenza and its complications. Pregnant women bear a disproportionate burden from influenza infection. 

In 2009 5% of influenza deaths were in pregnant women despite them only representing 1% of the population. Amongst pregnant women with confirmed influenza, the risk of foetal death is almost doubled. 

What are the complications?

The fact that the immune system is naturally suppressed during pregnancy may lead to an increased chance of contracting influenza. Additionally, pregnant women have an increased risk of severe complications: stillbirth, premature birth and suboptimal foetal growth. 

How can pregnant women protect themselves and the baby?

Influenza vaccination protects against these three complications. Although vaccination rates have recently increased, pregnant women seem to underestimate the risk to the unborn baby – especially from influenza. Not enough mums understand that the baby cannot be vaccinated against influenza in the first 6 months of life. Multiple studies show that influenza vaccine at any stage of pregnancy is associated with a 20% reduction in risk of stillbirth.

What do pregnant women need to know?

Elizabeth McCarthy, Senior Lecturer, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Melbourne, Perinatal Center, Mercy Hospital for Women:

“The influenza vaccine is nationally approved and free for pregnant women.

The vaccine is the best way to protect the mother and baby.

Vaccinating pregnant women against influenza gives a three for one benefit:

  • Protects the mum during pregnancy and in the early months of motherhood
  • Protects the unborn baby by transplacental antibodies
  • Protects the young infant by antibodies in breast milk”

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Page Published: 7 March 2017 | Page Updated: 1 July 2020