Pertussis Vaccines for Expecting Mothers: Protecting the Health of Newborn Babies

By Dr. Sharon Cowden, CCP–Pittsburgh Pediatrics; Dr. Mark Diamond, CCP–South Hills Pediatric Associates; and Dr. Mike Green, Infectious Diseases, Children’s Hospital

Pregnant women should get the pertussis vaccine (commonly known as whooping cough vaccine) during the third trimester of pregnancy, regardless of whether they have had it previously, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Expecting mothers who get the pertussis vaccine can create protective antibodies, some of which are passed to the baby before birth. These antibodies provide short-term protection in the early days of life before the baby is old enough to receive his or her own vaccine at 2 months of age.

10446554_10152537124078844_8602296215558716020_nThe antibodies are the highest about two weeks after getting the vaccine, so expecting mothers should get the vaccine late in their pregnancy, ideally during the 27th through 36th week, to offer the greatest protection to their newborn babies.

“We cannot stress enough the importance of mothers getting vaccinated for pertussis during pregnancy,” advises Michael Green, MD, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “Newborns who contract pertussis are at great risk for serious and life-threatening complications. In fact, Children’s Hospital has cared for several infants in recent years who have died as a result of pertussis. The unfortunate reality is that these deaths may have been prevented if mothers had received the pertussis vaccine when they were pregnant.”

The CDC and a panel of experts state that the pertussis vaccine is very safe for pregnant women and their unborn babies.  Getting the vaccine during pregnancy does not increase the risk for pregnancy complications.

Talk to your doctor about getting the pertussis vaccine. Not all primary care doctors or obstetricians have the vaccine readily available in their offices, but they can direct you to the appropriate location.

For more information on pertussis and other vaccinations, please visit