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What vaccinations do I need during pregnancy?

We’ve compiled a guide to your and your baby's vaccinations

A female doctor checks the heart if a baby being held by their mum
A female doctor checks the heart if a baby being held by their mum

When you’re thinking about starting a family, there’s a lot to consider. At the top of the list should be ensuring you’re in the best health possible to give your baby the best start in life.

When it comes to your health, an important first step is making sure you’re vaccinated against any infectious illnesses that could harm you or your baby. That’s why we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to the vaccinations you’ll need every step of the way.

Do I need to get vaccinated before falling pregnant?

It’s a good idea to visit your doctor before you start trying for a baby, so if you’re yet to fall pregnant, consider this step one. As part of a pre-pregnancy check-up, your GP will want to ask about the vaccinations and infections you’ve had in the past. That’s because you develop immunity to an infection by having an illness or by being vaccinated against it.

It’s usually recommended that you have blood tests to check your immunity to certain infectious illnesses, including hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. If you’re not immune – or if your immunity has waned over time – your doctor may recommend that you get vaccinated before getting pregnant.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has outlined some of the other factors you should consider prior to becoming pregnant to give yourself the best chance of a healthy pregnancy and baby.

What vaccinations do I need pre-pregnancy?

Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination

While most women of childbearing age in Australia have been immunised, some may not have been vaccinated or might need a booster shot. If blood tests show that you’re not immune, vaccination before pregnancy is strongly recommended.

The MMR vaccine can be given as one or two doses to women planning a pregnancy. It’s important that you take precautions to avoid becoming pregnant for at least 28 days after being vaccinated.

Chickenpox vaccination

Having chickenpox during pregnancy can result in some serious health concerns for both you and your baby. For women who haven’t had chickenpox before or who haven’t been vaccinated, it’s a good idea to receive the vaccine before you start trying for a baby.

To be adequately protected, women planning a pregnancy need to have two doses of the vaccine, at least four weeks apart. Once again, you will need to use reliable contraception to avoid becoming pregnant for at least 28 days after the second dose.

A female doctor checks the heart of a baby being held by their mum

What vaccinations do I need during pregnancy?

The following vaccines are routinely recommended during pregnancy to give you and your baby the best protection.

Flu vaccination

During pregnancy, your risk of getting flu is increased. And if you do catch the flu while pregnant, you’re likely to have more severe symptoms and a higher risk of complications, which can put your baby at risk.

Having a flu vaccine during pregnancy also helps protect your baby from influenza for the first six months of their life, when they are too young to be vaccinated themselves.

Related: Everything you need to know about the flu vaccine

Whooping cough vaccination

In Australia, more than 200 babies are hospitalised each year with whooping cough and tragically there is an average of one infant death every year related to this infection. Babies can’t be vaccinated against whooping cough until they are two months old, but you can protect your baby by getting vaccinated during pregnancy.

Vaccination against whooping cough is recommended in every pregnancy, ideally at 20-32 weeks. A single dose of dTap (diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis) combination vaccine gives adequate protection.

It’s important that other people who will be having close contact with your baby – such as your partner, parents or friends – are also vaccinated against whooping cough and influenza.

Is it safe to get vaccinated while pregnant?

Vaccines are only ever recommended once they have been thoroughly tested and found to be safe; testing for use during pregnancy and childhood is even more rigorous.

Influenza and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines – the only vaccinations routinely recommended during pregnancy – have not been found to cause any harm to the developing baby. Not having these vaccines is a far bigger threat to your health and the health of your baby.

Make sure you always tell all healthcare providers if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive; it’s important to never get vaccinated, take any medicines (including herbal medicines) or other treatments before checking that it is safe to do when pregnant.

Do babies need vaccinations? What age do they start?

It’s recommended that all babies are vaccinated against hepatitis B at birth. The next childhood vaccinations are recommended at two, four, six, 12 and 18 months, and then at four years. These vaccinations protect your baby against a variety of infectious illnesses, including whooping cough, meningococcal disease and tetanus.

The aim is to protect your baby against potentially dangerous illnesses as soon as it is possible (and safe) to do so. To help keep track your child’s immunisations, download the Save The Date to Vaccinate immunisation app.

What if I choose not to vaccinate?

Vaccination is strongly recommended with scientifically proven benefits for mothers and babies. If you decide not to have the recommended vaccines, you are putting yourself and your newborn baby at increased risk of serious health concerns from infectious illnesses.

In addition to the increased health risks, you may face the following penalties if you decide not to vaccinate your child:

No Jab, No Pay

Families wanting to receive family assistance payments (such as Family Tax Benefit Part A or child care fee assistance) from the Australian Government must immunise their children, unless they cannot be immunised for medical reasons.

If your children are not vaccinated but you want to become eligible for payments, speak to Centrelink or your GP about catch-up vaccines.

No Jab, No Play

Some states have policies where only children who are up to date with their vaccinations are able to be enrolled in childcare, preschool or kindergarten. Families are also asked to provide an immunisation certificate when enrolling their children at school in some states.

Children who are not up to date with their vaccinations may be asked to stay at home from school or childcare during an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable illness.

At a time when there is so much misinformation circulating online about the safety of vaccines, you might be second-guessing whether you’re making the right decision by immunising yourself or your child. If you’re on the fence, check out our article on the biggest vaccination myths, busted.

We understand it can be hard to make sense of all the available information, so for personalised advice make sure to talk to your doctor.

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