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Pre-pregnancy planning: Protecting yourself and your baby

Planning a pregnancy?

Vaccinations can protect against infectious diseases such as varicella (chickenpox), influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and hepatitis B that can seriously harm you and your baby if you fall ill during pregnancy.

How serious can it be?

If a pregnant woman develops diseases such as rubella and chickenpox, this can cause brain, heart, eye and ear and limb deformity in the baby. These diseases, as well as influenza and mumps also increase the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. Whooping cough can cause pneumonia and seizures, and influenza can result in increased risk of severe illness or even death for the mother.

You and your unborn child can potentially be exposed to the serious effects of these diseases if you are not vaccinated before you fall pregnant.

Get with the (national immunisation) program

Visit your doctor for a check-up when making plans to fall pregnant. Your doctor can issue a blood test to see if you are fully immunised, and if you are missing any vaccinations, advise an appropriate catch up schedule.

It’s very important to get your household, family members and other people who come into close contact with your new baby to check their immunisations are up-to-date.

For example, infants cannot receive their first dose of the whooping cough vaccine until two months of age and rely on the “cocoon” protection from:

  • Their mother
  • The people around them such as grandparents, babysitters, siblings (vaccinated at least two weeks before coming into contact with the baby)

Studies have shown in around 80 per cent of infant whooping cough cases, it is someone in the household who infected the child.

Generally, any approved vaccine can be given before pregnancy. However, some of them should be given at least a month before it. For instance, you should avoid becoming pregnant for 28 days after the measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines, as these vaccines contain live viruses which may be of risk to the fetus.

During pregnancy

In an ideal world, women would be up-to-date with immunisation before they become pregnant. Vaccinations are usually advised against during pregnancy as there can be some risk of a mild fever, a known cause of birth defects. If you are already pregnant, it’s best you are guided by your doctor on the risks and benefits of the immunisation in your case.

However, there are some vaccinations that your doctor may recommend having during pregnancy. The flu vaccine is one of these:

The flu vaccine

The influenza vaccine is free for all pregnant women. This is because expecting mums are at a much higher risk of influenza-related complications, so it’s important you consider this vaccination to provide protection for both you and your newborn baby for six months after birth.

Apart from immunisation, you can also help reduce the risk of contracting vaccine-preventable and other illnesses by regular hand washing, avoiding international travel and avoiding close contact with sick people.

There are many factors to consider, so you should consult your doctor to discuss this important health subject.