Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious infection that can be deadly for infants, especially in their first few months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted an increase in pertussis infections since 2011, with a 24% increase from 2013 to 2014 alone. In the hopes of reducing pertussis-related complications, the CDC now recommends women in their third trimester speak with their OBGYN about protection against whooping cough.
Studies have shown that pertussis vaccinations in the last trimester may offer short-term protection that bridges the two months between birth and the time babies receive their whooping cough vaccination. This gap is when infants are most vulnerable to the infection, and complications from whooping cough can cause hospitalization or death.
Following vaccination, a woman’s body begins to produce antibodies, some of which are passed to the fetus. Two weeks following immunization, the antibodies are at their peak. Since the antibodies decrease over time, obstetricians sometimes recommend a pertussis vaccine for each pregnancy, regardless of whether or not a woman has received one in the past.
Mothers who receive the whooping cough vaccine after giving birth may pass antibodies to their baby through breastfeeding. However, since it takes two weeks for antibodies to reach their height, the baby could be unprotected during this time.
In addition, since pertussis is passed through person-to-person contact, anyone who anticipates being in close contact with a child under one-year of age should consider receiving the vaccination. This includes siblings, parents, grandparents, childcare providers, etc. Ideally, the pertussis immunization would be at least two weeks prior to contact.