If you're unlucky enough to come down with the flu, you'll probably feel miserable for a few days. But if you happen to be pregnant, you could get really sick -- sick enough to wind up in the hospital. You might even go into labor prematurely, or give birth to a smaller-than-normal baby.
By arming yourself against germs before you conceive, you also protect your baby. "Mothers' [bodies] make [disease-fighting] antibodies when they get an immunization, and then the placenta has a system for pumping those antibodies to the fetus. So the baby will be born with the same or more of the antibodies that the mother has," says Kevin A. Ault, MD. He's a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Here's a guide to the vaccines moms-to-be need, and when they should get them:
Before You Start Trying
If possible, you should be up to date on all recommended adult vaccines, especially measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), and varicella (chicken pox). These infections can cause birth defects and miscarriage, and doctors don't advise getting the vaccines for them during pregnancy.
Once You Are Pregnant
Two shots you definitely should get during pregnancy are the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) and flu vaccines. By vaccinating yourself, you also indirectly protect your baby once he's born, because newborns must wait a few months before they get their own shots against these diseases.
If you're worried about safety, the research should reassure you. In 50 years' worth of studies on the flu vaccine in pregnancy, none has found a risk to mothers or babies. The newer DTaP vaccine doesn't have as much research behind it, but the studies that have been done don't suggest any risk, Ault says. And because of the recent rise in cases of pertussis (whooping cough), which can be deadly to infants, it's important to get vaccinated to protect your baby.
Once You Deliver
Right after the baby arrives, it's time to catch up on any vaccinations you didn't already get. That includes DTaP, MMR, and varicella. These vaccines are safe even while you're nursing, and they'll protect both you and your new baby.
Ask Your Doctor
1. Which vaccines do I need to have before I get pregnant?
2. Which vaccines should I get while I'm pregnant?
3. When is the best time during my pregnancy to get vaccinated?
4. Could any vaccines harm my baby?
5. What should I do if I have side effects from a vaccine?
6. Once my baby is born, which vaccines will I need?
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