Written by: Dr. Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP
Calling all doctors, nurses and other health care providers. It’s National Immunization Month, making it the perfect time to brush up on the latest recommendations regarding vaccines. You already know vaccines are important to the health of our children and help prevent diseases, but they are also important to adults, especially pregnant woman and those who might become pregnant. This is an area of the population that is often overlooked when it comes to immunizations.
It’s important that when seeing a woman of childbearing age that you inquire about their vaccination status. This is true whether you seeing them for a physical, illness, or for a prenatal visit. If there are any questions, or anything is unknown, make sure they obtain past records, you order lab work to prove they are protected (especially for MMR and Varicella), or discuss revaccinating them pertussis and flu when appropriate.
I’ve commonly seen women have their immunization records become incomplete, lost or misplaced, due to getting older, relocating, and changing healthcare providers, among other reasons. Often times, she may not even recall if she had chicken pox as a child, is up to date on her MMR vaccine, or when her last pertussis vaccine was. These facts are not only important to her health, but also to her future children.
Along with nutrition, a mother’s immunity is passed along to her baby during pregnancy and the first months after birth. I find that many new moms don’t know this important fact so it’s a good idea to bring it up when you see them. Tdap is safe and recommended for all pregnant woman in their last trimester so antibodies and protection pass to her infant. In addition, flu vaccines are recommended during pregnancy to protect baby and mom, because pregnant woman are at much higher risk of flu complications, including miscarriage.
The MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) and Varicella vaccines are not recommend during pregnancy due to a theoretical risk of the live vaccine causing illness. However, it is much more dangerous and even devastating to the baby if an unimmune or unvaccinated pregnant mom catches any of these viruses. For moms who are not immune and are currently pregnant, they should be given the vaccine after delivery, before they leave the hospital with their new baby to not only protect them from catching the virus and infecting their baby, but also to protect them during future pregnancies.
If we all work together to ask about vaccine and disease history and educate woman on the importance every step of the way, we can better protect our pregnant moms and future babies. Immunizations are essential in helping to keep people safe and healthy. When an expecting mom gets the vaccines she needs, she is helping to protect the next generation, too!
About the Author
Dr. Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP
Assistant Clinical Professor at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA and Pediatrician at Calabasas Pediatrics in Calabasa, CA
Dr. Altmann is the best-selling author of What to Feed Your Baby, Mommy Calls and The Wonder Years