National Immunization Awareness Month is a reminder that we all need vaccines throughout our lives. Vaccines are an important part of a healthy pregnancy. Women should be up to date on their vaccinations before becoming pregnant. They should receive vaccines against both flu and whooping cough (pertussis) during pregnancy. These vaccines protect the mother and her baby by preventing illnesses and complications. Getting vaccinated during pregnancy also allows the mother to pass some protection on to her baby. Women who are planning to have a child may need to receive vaccines before their pregnancy. The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is one example.

Women who have not received the full series of the MMR vaccine should get it at least 4 weeks before their pregnancy begins. This is important to avoid some diseases that can lead to significant pregnancy complications, including birth defects. Rubella, for example, can cause serious problems during pregnancy. That's why women need to have immunity before becoming pregnant. Pregnant women should get flu and whooping cough vaccines during their pregnancy (if they have not already received the vaccine during the current flu season). Pregnant women are at increased risk for serious complications from the flu. When a pregnant woman gets a flu shot, she is protecting herself from getting sick with flu.

Though not specifically examined among pregnant women, there are some studies that suggest that flu vaccination can make illness milder among people who do still get sick. Another benefit of getting a flu shot during pregnancy is that antibodies are passed on to baby. Children younger than 6 months are too young to get a flu vaccine, but they are at high risk of being hospitalized from flu. Pregnant women should also receive a pertussis (whooping cough) shot. Whooping cough can be serious for anyone, but for a newborn it can be life threatening. Studies show that getting the whooping cough vaccine while pregnant helps protect the baby from getting this disease. If the baby does still get sick, he is less likely to develop severe complications if his mom was vaccinated.

Both flu and whooping cough vaccines can give the baby early protection against disease. For that to happen, pregnant women must receive those vaccines during their pregnancy. Pregnancy is also a good time for mothers to start learning about vaccines for children. They'll want to know about all the vaccines that protect babies after they're born. You can find out more about the vaccines recommended during pregnancy and for your newborn at www.cdc.gov/vaccines or by talking to your doctor or midwife, or Countryside Public Health at 320-564-3010. Countryside Public Health has a vaccine program for those without health insurance.