How to Protect Your Baby From Whooping Cough

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As a parent, the thought of your baby getting whooping cough, or pertussis, may concern you. But you can take steps to protect your little one, even before he is born.

In order to keep your baby safe, you’ll need to protect yourself and your whole family.

Whooping Cough Is Very Easy to Catch

Pertussis vaccines don’t completely wipe out whooping cough. The protection you get from the childhood vaccine -- or from having whooping cough -- wanes after a while.

If you’ve had the vaccine, you may still get whooping cough, but not a severe case. In fact, you may mistake it for a cold. And you can still spread it.

"It's quite contagious," says Kathryn M. Edwards, MD, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program. "It makes you cough, which is an effective way for the organism to spread." Sneezing and even just breathing are other ways to pass it throughout your household.

It’s Very Dangerous for Babies

When a baby catches whooping cough, it can have breathing trouble, pneumonia, and in rare cases, even brain damage or death. Infants aren’t vaccinated for whooping cough until they are 2 months old.

"Most deaths from whooping cough occur in babies under 4 months old," says James Cherry, MD, a specialist in children's infectious diseases, "and most of these babies have gotten it from their parents, particularly their mothers.”

The Vaccinations

There are two pertussis vaccines:

  • DTaP is for children under 7 years old.
  • Tdap is for adults and older children.

Both Tdap and DTaP also protect against diphtheria and tetanus.

Get a Vaccine When You're Pregnant

If you are expecting, protecting yourself protects your baby.

"A woman should get a Tdap vaccine every time she is pregnant," Edwards says.

Get the shot between weeks 27 and 36 of your pregnancy. It helps you build antibodies to fight whooping cough that you pass on to your newborn, protecting him before he can get his first DTaP shot.

Build a Circle of Protection at Home

All other adults, older children, and caregivers who will come into close contact with your infant should also have a Tdap shot.

The ideal age to get the Tdap shot is 11 or 12 years old. But teen siblings, cousins, grandparents, and caregivers who haven't already had the shot should get one, at least 2 weeks before being around the baby.


Get Baby's Vaccines on Schedule

Your baby starts building his own immunity when he gets the first DTaP shot. He should get a total of five doses, one each at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15-18 months
  • 4-6 years

When kept to schedule, the vaccine is 80% to 90% effective, and will protect the child until he or she is ready for the Tdap shot.

About one in four children get a fever or soreness, swelling, or redness at the site of the DTaP shot, most likely after a later dose. In rare cases, some children have severe reactions to the vaccine and should stop getting it.

Know the Signs of Whooping Cough

At first, whooping cough looks like a common cold. Symptoms may include:

Severe coughing may begin after 1 or 2 weeks and continue for several weeks. It causes people to take deep, quick breaths that can make a "whooping" noise.

Babies may have little or no cough, but they can have apnea, or pauses in breathing.

If you or your child has a cold with a severe cough, see a doctor. If it is whooping cough, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to ease symptoms and help keep it from spreading to others.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on January 22, 2014



CDC: "Pertussis Frequently Asked Questions," "Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTaP) Vaccines: What You Need to Know," "Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Vaccination," "Protect Babies from Whooping Cough (Pertussis)."

James Cherry, MD, MSc, pediatric infectious disease specialist, professor, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA.

Kathryn M. Edwards, MD, Sarah H. Sell and Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in Pediatrics, and director, Vaccine Research Program, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN.

© 2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


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