Pregnancy can cause your immune system to be weaker than normal. These changes can make you more prone to getting some infections or can make symptoms more severe if you get sick.
Keeping up to date with vaccinations will keep you healthy during pregnancy and will support your baby’s health too. Your baby’s immune system will not develop until after they’re born but there are some protective antibodies that you will pass on to them during pregnancy.
Checking what vaccinations you need is one of the most important health checks to get when you’re planning to conceive. Make sure to discuss with your doctor months before you start trying as some vaccines aren’t suitable to get during pregnancy.
Your GP may have a record of your past vaccinations. If you attended primary or high school in Australia, your parents may have a record of any vaccinations you received at school.
If you have no record of your past vaccinations then your GP can take some blood tests to show your immunity. They will usually check your immunity to rubella, chickenpox and hepatitis B. There are 3 vaccines recommended in Australia for women planning to get pregnant which may need to be paid for privately. If you have private health insurance, you may be able to claim a reimbursement, depending on your policy and level of cover.
1. Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR)
This is a combination vaccine that provides protection to 3 diseases but is in a single injection. Although these diseases are rare now, they can have serious complications if you get them during pregnancy.
If your doctor recommends that you get the MMR vaccine, you will likely need 2 doses, at least 1 month apart, to be protected. You should wait at least 4 weeks after getting a MMR injection before trying to conceive because the risk to a foetus is unknown.
- Measles is a highly contagious infection that causes rash and fever. Every few years we hear of an outbreak in Australia from people after travelling overseas. Getting measles while pregnant can increase the chances of premature birth, stillbirth or low birth weight baby.
- Mumps is a contagious infection that can increase the risk of miscarriage if a pregnant woman is infected during the first trimester.
- Rubella (also called German measles) is a contagious infection that can cause miscarriage or birth defects, especially if a pregnant woman is infected in the first trimester.
Chickenpox (also called varicella) is a contagious infection that causes itchy rash and fever. You may have immunity against chickenpox if you’ve had chickenpox before, even if it was a very long time ago.
If a pregnant woman is infected with chickenpox, it can lead to the serious complications, depending on what stage of pregnancy she is in. Complications may include premature birth, a baby being born with severe chickenpox, or birth defects.
If your doctor recommends that you get the chickenpox vaccine, you will likely need 2 doses, at least 1 month apart, to be protected. You should wait at least 4 weeks after getting a chickenpox injection before trying to conceive because the risk of the vaccine to a foetus is unknown.
3. Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that can cause damage to the liver. In pregnant women who have chronic hepatitis B, they can transmit the hepatitis B infection to their baby at birth. Health authorities in Australia recommend that every pregnant woman is tested for hepatitis B as part of their first antenatal visit. If identified early then doctors and midwives can create a plan to protect babies from developing hepatitis B.
The number of doses needed depends on the type or brand of hepatitis B vaccine your doctor recommends. You will likely need either 2 or 3 doses. If you need 2 doses, they are given 6 months apart. If you need 3 doses, you will need the second dose 1 month after the first dose and the third dose 6 months after the first dose.
Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Australian Immunisation Handbook, Australian Government Department of Health, Canberra, 2018, immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au.