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Vaccinations in pregnancy

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Certain vaccinations are recommended in pregnancy to boost the immunity of both your and your baby against certain infections.

During pregnancy, a woman’s immune system is usually weakened as it is diverted to protect the baby. Some vaccines are boosters of vaccinations you may have had in childhood.

Certain vaccinations are safe, and some pose a risk – your practice nurse, midwife, or doctor can talk you through this. Any potential risk posed by a vaccine is considerably less than getting the infection itself.

Which vaccines should I have in pregnancy?

Having vaccinations during pregnancy allows your body to produce antibodies to help fight against a particular viral or bacterial infection. These antibodies will defend you the next time you meet them, and they pass through the placenta to your baby for protection until after they are born.

The pertussis vaccine (Tdap) is recommended between the 27th and 36th week of pregnancy. This vaccine protects against a bacterial infection called whooping cough (pertussis), which can be very serious in young babies. The vaccine protects your baby up until they receive their own vaccine at 2 months of age. It will have formed part of your childhood vaccinations, too.

The flu vaccine is recommended each year for certain vulnerable groups, including pregnant women. Their slightly weakened immune system means they are more likely to suffer complications from the influenza virus than usual. Flu can lead to pneumonia and hospitalization; the vaccine reduces your chance of this. This is best taken as early as possible during flu season, in autumn and winter.

Similarly, the COVID-19 vaccine is offered as pregnant women are at higher risk of complications if they catch COVID-19 than non-pregnant people of the same age. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in pregnancy and offers good protection for both mother and child. This can be given at any time during your pregnancy.

Which vaccines should I avoid?

Some vaccines contain live components of the virus or bacteria, while others don’t. Live vaccines contain a ‘live’ version of the virus and are usually not advised in pregnancy as they could provoke the infection in your unborn child. Examples of live vaccines include the MMR vaccine (against measles, mumps, and rubella), polio, typhoid, and yellow fever.

It’s best to wait until after the baby is born to have these vaccines. Still, if the risk outweighs the benefit (for example, you are at a high risk of a particular infection), your doctors may decide that it is in your and your baby’s best interest to have the vaccine.

What about if I need to travel?

It’s usually best to avoid countries where you need a vaccine to travel to during pregnancy. If you can't delay travel, you should discuss it with your doctor, practice nurse, or midwife, as many travel vaccines are live vaccines and carry some risks that you should be aware of.

If areas you are traveling to are high risk, it is better to have a vaccine than risk traveling without any protection. Malarial countries should be avoided during pregnancy, but there are some antimalarial tablets you can take as a preventative measure if you must travel. These come with risks, so it is important to discuss them with a doctor. 

Do I need a vaccination every time I’m pregnant?

The pertussis vaccine and the flu vaccine will be required with each pregnancy, as the length of protection does not last that long, and the flu virus changes every year, so previous vaccines are not protective against future infections.

According to current guidelines, the COVID-19 vaccine should offer ongoing protection, provided you get your boosters.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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