Is the Tdap Vaccine Safe for Pregnant Women?

If you're pregnant, you're likely focused on keeping yourself and your baby healthy. You may be looking at your diet and exercise routine as a part of that equation. But don't forget that preventative medical care, like vitamins and immunizations, are important too. 

Doctors even recommend certain vaccines, like the Tdap, during pregnancy to protect both the baby and the mom. This raises the question: is it safe to get vaccines during pregnancy?

What is Tdap?

Tdap stands for diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis. It's a booster vaccine that protects you against infections like tetanus, or lockjaw, and pertussis, also called whooping cough. Children over the age of 10 and adults who previously had the vaccine take this immunization shot. The Tdap vaccine is designed to "boost" or improve the protection from earlier doses.

Dangers of Pertussis

Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis are life-threatening diseases. The risk of complications and death is higher in older people and young children. 

Whooping cough causes extreme coughing fits that can make it hard to breathe and may lead to seizures, brain damage, and death. Infants have a much higher risk of contracting pertussis and experiencing life-threatening complications. Cases are rising across the United States and have increased by more than 18% in the last decade. 

Reasons to Get the Tdap Vaccine During Pregnancy

Babies don't naturally have a resistance against diseases like whooping cough and won't receive the vaccination until they are 2 months old. This puts them at high risk if they catch any of the Tdap diseases before getting the vaccine.

But there is a way to avoid this risk. Pregnant women who receive the Tdap vaccine produce high levels of antibodies that can be passed on to the developing baby and protect them in the first couple of months after their birth. This is why doctors suggest getting a Tdap vaccine when you're pregnant. 

Moreover, babies are most likely to get pertussis from whoever they spend the most time with. For infants, this person is usually their mom. Getting the Tdap vaccine will keep them from catching it from you.

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Timing is Important: When to Get the Tdap Vaccine

Doctors recommend the Tdap vaccine to women who are between 27 and 36 weeks pregnant, or in the third trimester. The number of protective antibodies will reach the highest levels in your body about 2 weeks after getting the injection. 

It's also possible to pass antibodies through breast milk. But remember that your body will take around 2 weeks to make the antibodies. So, if you wait until after you've given birth, your body will need time to create new antibodies. If you get the vaccine while pregnant, though, it will provide immediate protection to your baby when breastfeeding.

Whooping cough antibodies diminish over time. Typically, adults only need a Tdap booster once every 10 years, but experts don't know the exact amount of antibodies you need to protect you from getting pertussis. That's why doctors recommend the vaccine for each pregnancy, even if that means getting a shot two or three times within a few years. 

Tdap Vaccine Benefits and Risks

Side effects from the Tdap booster tend to be mild, which means they shouldn't interfere with your daily life and should go away within a few days. Side effects can include: 

  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Redness, swelling, or tenderness at the injection site

The Tdap vaccine contains inactivated bacteria. It won't give you whooping cough or lockjaw. It's designed to activate your immune system to identify foreign invaders and create protective antibodies. Most people don't have severe reactions to the vaccine.

Vaccinations During Pregnancy: Are They Safe?

While there are some vaccines that women are recommended to avoid while pregnant, Tdap is not on the list. It's considered safe and doesn't put you at risk for any pregnancy-related complications. The medical community periodically reviews published safety studies, including: 

  • Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). This database holds public information about serious side effects from different vaccines.
  • Manufacturer Pregnancy Registries. Companies that produce the vaccine have created pregnancy registries to track and collect information.
  • Tdap Vaccine Safety History. Pregnant women started getting Tdap vaccinations in the 1960s to prevent cases of tetanus in newborns. There is a long history of research and data about the Tdap vaccine that you can look into if you're uncomfortable.

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Things to Consider

If you're pregnant, the Tdap vaccine can protect you and your baby from whooping cough. It's also important to consider the friends and family members in your household. Doctors recommend the Tdap vaccine for anyone who's in close contact with babies who are less than a year old and haven't gotten the vaccine. This includes day care providers, spouses, and grandparents.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 02, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Pertussis Vaccine: Receiving Tdap During Pregnancy." 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Get the Whooping Cough Vaccine During Each Pregnancy," "Whooping Cough Vaccines are Safe But Side Effects Can Occur."

Harvard Medical School: "Vaccines for Women: Before conception, during pregnancy, and after a birth." 

Mayo Clinic: "Diphtheria, Tetanus, And Acellular Pertussis Booster Vaccine (Intramuscular Route)."

Pediatrics: “Strategies to Decrease Pertussis Transmission to Infants.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Update on Immunization and Pregnancy: Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis Vaccination."

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