What you need to know

  • Before you get pregnant, it’s a good idea to check whether you’re immune to measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and whooping cough. 
  • If you’re already pregnant, the Ministry of Health recommends you have a whooping cough booster and a seasonal flu shot. Both vaccines are free and safe to have during your pregnancy.  
  • Whooping cough and seasonal flu can make you and your unborn baby very sick.   
  • The vaccine itself doesn’t get passed through to your unborn baby, but the immune response it triggers in you, will benefit your newborn. 

Vaccines stimulate your own immune system to make antibodies that can fight off disease and viruses.  

Mothers pass some of this immunity to their babies during pregnancy, providing some protection to newborn babies during the first few weeks of life, until they can be immunised. 

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Whooping cough can be serious for babies, but having a booster shot while you’re pregnant can provide your newborn with some protection.   

Whooping cough: 

  • spreads very easily through coughing and sneezing  
  • can cause severe coughing attacks 
  • can lead to serious complications like pneumonia and brain damage. 

In babies under one year old, whooping cough can stop them from breathing or feeding properly. This means they can become very ill, and may need to go to hospital. 

Why pregnant women should have a whooping cough booster shot 

Immunity to whooping cough decreases over time, so adults can catch the disease even if they were immunised in the past, or have had the disease.  

Babies often catch whooping cough from parents or older siblings before they’re old enough to be immunised. 

The whooping cough immunisation is free for women in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy, and is recommended from 16 weeks onwards.  

In New Zealand, babies are immunised against whooping cough at ages six weeks, three months and five months, then again at ages four and 11 years. They’re not well protected from whooping cough until they’ve had their first three doses. 

Influenza

Influenza (the flu) isn’t a cold. Symptoms are usually much more severe, and include a cough, headache, fever or chills, body aches and pains, fatigue and generally feeling miserable.   

Getting influenza can be harmful for the pregnant woman, and for the baby.  

Pregnant women who catch influenza have higher rates of complication with their pregnancy, including: 

  • miscarriage 
  • premature birth 
  • stillbirth 
  • babies small for their gestational age. 

The influenza vaccine won’t harm your unborn baby. You can’t get influenza from being immunised, and there’s no increased risk of reactions to the vaccine for pregnant women.  

Newborns and young babies have higher rates of influenza and hospitalisation than other children, so the protection they receive from you while they’re in the womb could make all the difference. 

The flu vaccine is available in New Zealand from 1 April to 31 December, but immunisation is recommended before winter if possible. 

Immunisation for pregnant women

Ministry of Health

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The Government's principal advisor on health and disability: improving, promoting and protecting the health of New Zealanders.

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