Pregnancy Awareness Week: The vital role of vaccination before, during and after pregnancy

To ensure a healthy start for your newborn, consider the significance of getting recommended vaccines before or during pregnancy. Picture: Amr Taha™/ Unsplash

To ensure a healthy start for your newborn, consider the significance of getting recommended vaccines before or during pregnancy. Picture: Amr Taha™/ Unsplash

Published Feb 8, 2024


As an expecting mother, navigating the journey towards a healthy pregnancy and ensuring the birth of a healthy baby can feel overwhelming.

However, understanding and consulting with a health-care provider is important for personalised advice on vaccinations before, during and after pregnancy, as recommendations may vary based on individual medical history and specific circumstances.

Embarking on the beautiful journey of motherhood comes with a responsibility to prioritise the well-being of both mother and baby. One often overlooked but crucial aspect is vaccination before and after pregnancy, according to Lizeth Kruger, Dis-Chem Baby City’s national clinic executive.

Making informed decisions about vaccinations can contribute to the well-being of both the mother and her baby, and also plays a role in promoting public health within the broader community.

As South Africa observes Pregnancy Awareness Week from February 10–16, Kruger urges women planning for pregnancy and those already pregnant to know their vaccine requirements for maternal health.

She also stresses the importance of attending antenatal care as soon as they suspect that they are pregnant, especially within their first trimester.

Key vaccines that are commonly recommended before and during pregnancy include those for flu and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis).

These vaccines help protect both the mother and the baby from severe illnesses. Picture: Ed Us Unsplash

These vaccines help protect both the mother and the baby from severe illnesses, and they are typically considered safe and effective during pregnancy.

Additionally, vaccines such as measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and varicella (chickenpox) are often recommended post-partum if a woman is not already immune.

The guidelines for a healthy pregnancy are well known and encompass essential practices for expectant mothers.

These include regular prenatal care visits to monitor both the mother and the baby, and embracing a nutritious diet rich in vitamins and minerals.

They also include staying adequately hydrated with water, engaging in moderate exercise with health-care provider guidance, and strictly avoiding harmful substances such as smoking, alcohol and toxic chemicals to safeguard the well-being of the baby.

These practices are vital for promoting a healthy pregnancy and supporting the well-being of both the mother and the developing baby.

While vaccinations play a critical role in keeping the baby healthy, there is little information on how they play a critical role in safeguarding the health of the mother and baby before and after pregnancy.

Vaccinations before pregnancy or during pregnancy can help protect the mother from vaccine-preventable diseases, reducing the risk of illness during a time when the body may be more susceptible to certain infections.

Certain vaccines, when administered during pregnancy, can also provide protection for the unborn baby by transferring immunity from the mother, thereby reducing the risk of the infant contracting certain diseases early in life.

Vaccinations can help prevent complications that could arise from certain infections, potentially reducing the risk of adverse outcomes during pregnancy and childbirth.

They help contribute to community immunity, protecting vulnerable individuals who may not be able to receive vaccines themselves, such as newborn babies and individuals with certain medical conditions.

“The immunity passed on during pregnancy provides initial protection, but it’s time-limited if you’re not vaccinated. To ensure a healthy start for your newborn, consider the significance of getting recommended vaccines before or during pregnancy,” explained Kruger.

Aside from providing information about vaccine requirements, she explained the diseases that mothers and their babies are at risk of contracting if not vaccinated.

What are the risks of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases during pregnancy?

The risks of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases during pregnancy can have serious consequences for the health of both the mother and the unborn baby.

Scientific evidence shows that pregnant women who contract diseases such as flu, measles, or pertussis are at greater risk of severe illness and complications, such as pneumonia and increased hospitalisation.

In addition, certain diseases can lead to adverse outcomes for the foetus, including miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, congenital abnormalities, and stillbirth.

There is also a risk of the diseases being passed from the mother to the foetus or newborn, potentially leading to serious health complications for the baby.

Newborns are particularly vulnerable to these diseases, and contracting them can result in severe outcomes, such as respiratory distress and other life-threatening complications.

Before any vaccination, communication with health-care providers is crucial. Information about allergies, pregnancy, immune system health, and recent medical history is vital. Some conditions may require postponing vaccination until a later visit.

Adacel vaccine: protecting against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis

Adacel is a vaccine designed to protect individuals aged 10 to 64 against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).

Administering Adacel during the third trimester helps the pregnant woman develop antibodies against whooping cough, providing early protection for the newborn.

Tetanus causes severe muscle spasms and can be contracted through cuts or wounds; while diphtheria leads to throat, lung, and skin infections with severe complications affecting various organs, and whooping cough results in coughing fits that may impact breathing, spreading from person to person.

MMR vaccine: preventing measles, mumps and rubella

Anyone planning pregnancy should have received all routine recommended vaccinations. The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and chickenpox (varicella) vaccines are particularly important for anyone who could get pregnant and is not already immune to these infections.

These vaccines protect from infections that can harm the developing foetus or the pregnancy; however, these are live virus vaccines, and cannot be given during pregnancy or during the month before getting pregnant.

Measles causes fever, cough, and rash, and can lead to severe complications including brain damage or death. Mumps result in fever, headache, swollen salivary glands, and in extreme cases, deafness or death.

Rubella causes fever and sore throat, and poses a serious risk of birth defects if contracted during pregnancy.

“Remember factors like allergies, weakened immune systems, and recent vaccinations should be discussed with health-care providers before and during pregnancy. Vaccines not only protect expectant mothers, but also contribute to the well-being of newborns,” said Kruger.