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Keeping your newborn safe from whooping cough

Vaccination is one of the best tools we have to prevent illness and keep people healthy, and your little one will receive many vaccinations throughout the first months and years of life (and beyond). But there are certain things that newborns can’t be vaccinated against quite yet, such as whooping cough. Because of this, it’s important that anybody coming into close contact with your baby is up to date with their whooping cough vaccination.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a dangerous and very contagious respiratory infection. Infants—and especially newborns—are at the greatest risk of serious complications from whooping cough.

According to the Mayo Clinic, whooping cough is characterized by a “severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like ‘whoop.'”

There are two types of whooping cough vaccines: DTaP, and Tdap. Children under age 7 receive the DTaP vaccine series, which helps build the body’s immunity against whooping cough. Adults and children 11 and older receive Tdap, which is a booster immunization, about every ten years.

Babies aren’t able to receive the DTaP vaccine until they are 2 months old, which makes it so important for your baby’s loved ones to stay up to date with their own Tdap boosters.

“Cocooning” your baby

In order to keep your little one safe from whooping cough infection, you’ll want to create a “circle of protection” around them. This is known as cocooning, and it starts even before a baby is born.

The CDC recommends that pregnant people receive a Tdap booster each pregnancy, “ideally between 27 and 36 weeks gestation.” The CDC recommends getting the Tdap booster no matter when your last one was because once your immune system builds antibodies against whooping cough, these antibodies will be passed on and provide your baby with some immunity as well. 

It’s recommended that people who don’t receive a Tdap booster during pregnancy do so immediately after giving birth, although this will not protect a baby directly.

In addition to pregnant people, it’s recommended that anyone who will be spending a lot of time with your baby is up to date with their whooping cough vaccinations or boosters. If they are not up to date, they should get their shot at least 2 weeks prior to being around the baby in order to build up sufficient immunity and protection.

Because whooping cough infections are often so much milder in adults, many may not even know they have whooping cough when coming into contact with your baby. If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to speak with your family, friends, and anybody else who will be spending time with your baby about whether they need a Tdap booster.

More questions about whooping cough? Your healthcare provider or baby’s pediatric provider are great resources for more information about protecting your baby from whooping cough.

  • “Vaccines for Family and Caregivers”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC. Reviewed Dec 5, 2019. Accessed at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pregnancy/family-caregivers.html#:~:text=Preteens%2C%20teens%2C%20and%20adults%20who,need%20to%20get%20vaccinated%20again
  • “New Parents and Grandparents—Which Vaccines Do You Need?”, Cedars-Sinai Staff, Cedars-Sinai. Oct 21, 2018. Accessed at: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/vaccines-new-parents-and-grandparents-protect-newborn.html
  • “Whooping Cough”, Mayo Clinic Staff. The Mayo Clinic. Oct 9, 2019. Accessed at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/whooping-cough/symptoms-causes/syc-20378973#:~:text=Whooping%20cough%20(pertussis)%20is%20a,was%20considered%20a%20childhood%20disease.

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