Vaccination and pregnancy
Vaccinations before becoming pregnant
Vaccines teach your immune system how to recognize and destroy germs if you are ever exposed to them. They protect you and your baby from certain infections, some of which can cause:
- birth defects
- premature birth
- miscarriage (losing a baby before birth)
Before becoming pregnant, you should be up to date on routine vaccinations, including:
- hepatitis A
- hepatitis B
- human papillomavirus infection (HPV)
- pertussis (whooping cough)
- varicella (chickenpox)
- influenza (the flu)
Before pregnancy, it is also important for all members of your household to have up-to-date routine vaccinations. This is important because your newborn can catch infections easily. Newborns can get very sick from these infections, especially in the early months. Some vaccinations also cannot be given to babies until they are a year old, like the measles vaccine.
Speak to your health care provider for up-to-date information on vaccination protection for you and your family.
Vaccinations during pregnancy
There are 2 types of vaccines:
- inactivated vaccines contain whole or parts of killed germs that cannot infect you
- examples include influenza and TdaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis)
- live attenuated vaccines contain bacteria or viruses that are weakened so that they cannot infect you
- examples include varicella and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
The best time to update vaccinations is prior to pregnancy. This is because some vaccinations are generally not given during pregnancy, such as live attenuated vaccines. However, if you are pregnant and need a vaccination, most are considered safe, such as the inactivated vaccines.
In certain cases, your health care provider may recommend vaccination with a live attenuated vaccine. This might happen when the risk of catching an infection is high, such as during an outbreak.
Reactions following vaccination with inactivated vaccines are usually limited to the area where the needle was given. You may have very mild symptoms after a vaccination, such as a red or sore arm. But there is no evidence that these vaccines harm you or your baby.
Recommended vaccines during pregnancy
Vaccination against influenza (flu) during pregnancy is recommended for all women, especially during flu season (November to April). This is because flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Vaccination with an inactivated flu vaccine lowers the risk for complications from flu during pregnancy and after your baby is born.
Other vaccines that may be recommended during pregnancy include:
- hepatitis B
- tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (TdaP vaccine)
- certain travel vaccines
Talk to your health care provider about vaccines that can protect you and your baby during pregnancy.
If you are travelling abroad while pregnant
If you are planning to travel abroad while pregnant, talk to your health care provider at a travel health clinic. Ask about vaccines you may need. Many vaccine preventable infections are common in other parts of the world.
Depending on where you plan to travel and what you plan to do there, you may need additional vaccinations. However, there are some vaccinations that should be avoided during pregnancy.
You will need to discuss recommended vaccinations at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip. Your health care provider will discuss the risks and benefits with you before providing the vaccine.
If you are vaccinated without knowing you are pregnant
Being vaccinated without knowing you are pregnant is not cause for alarm. Speak with your health care provider if you have any concerns.
Vaccinations while breastfeeding
Breastfeeding provides temporary protection by passing some of the mother's immunity to the baby. Babies who are breastfed often have lower rates of:
- ear infections
- viral lung infections
However, breast milk is not a substitute for vaccination. It does not protect against all diseases that can be prevented by vaccines. Its protection is only partial and only for a short time. This is why it's still very important to vaccinate your child even if they are being breastfed.
All routine vaccines that are provided in Canada are safe for women who are breastfeeding. It is also safe for your breastfeeding baby when you receive these vaccines.
Some less common vaccines should not be given to breastfeeding women. This is because an infection can be passed to the baby through breast milk. These vaccines include yellow fever vaccine and the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine for tuberculosis.
If you are breastfeeding during flu season, you should get a flu vaccine. This vaccine reduces the chances of you getting the flu and passing it on to your baby. This is especially important for babies under 6 months old who cannot receive the flu vaccine.
Even if you are no longer breastfeeding, you should still get the flu vaccine. This reduces the chances of your baby getting an infection.
Talk to your health care provider about vaccines that can protect you and your baby during breastfeeding.
Your baby's first vaccinations
At 2 months old, you should start your baby on his or her vaccination schedule. In certain circumstances, some vaccines may even be given to your baby at birth, such as the hepatitis B vaccine.
You will pass on some immunity to your child during pregnancy and breastfeeding. But your baby will still be able to catch many vaccine preventable infections. You can help protect your baby by making sure that you are vaccinated, and that family, friends and other visitors:
- have up-to-date vaccinations
- do not have an infection that can be spread to you or your baby, such as the flu
- use proper hand washing habits
Check the vaccination schedule for your province or territory, and have your baby vaccinated properly. You can use the schedule tool to get your baby’s vaccination schedule where you live. You can also use CANImmunize, a mobile application, to help you keep track of your child’s vaccinations.
For more information
- Caring for Kids.cps.ca:
- Vaccine safety, concerns and possible side effects
- Canadian Immunization Guide
- The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada: Immunization: Health before and during pregnancy
- A Parent's Guide to Vaccination
- Canadian Paediatric Society
- Caring for Kids, Inc.
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