Your Health

Add vaccines to your prenatal care

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Photo of Donna Alden-Budgen DR. VANESSA POLIQUIN
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, December 2, 2016

Almost every pregnant woman knows it’s important to take folic acid in order to prevent neural tube defects in her developing fetus.

But did you know there is another way to protect your unborn child? That’s right: by keeping current on your vaccinations.

Shots are available to protect you against viral infections like measles, chicken pox and influenza and bacterial infections like whooping cough or tetanus. These vaccinations also have the added benefit of protecting your child both before and after he or she is born.

Right now, health-care professionals are urging everyone to get their flu shot. There’s a reason for this. Think back to when the H1N1 flu strain hit North America in 2009-2010. That year, five per cent of influenza-related deaths were among pregnant women. Which is concerning, as pregnant women only make up one per cent of the population. Flu-related deaths continue to be a hazard faced by all Canadians, including pregnant women.

The complications of influenza are not to be sneezed at. Not only will the mother-to-be come down with influenza symptoms that can cause her to have heart and lung complications, she may be in danger of having a pre-term, low weight baby, a miscarriage or a still-born baby.

So far this flu season, the current flu vaccine is proving to be a good match for the strains of influenza in circulation. The vaccine will help you boost your immunity, giving you a 70 per cent chance of fighting off the flu.

When you receive a flu shot, your body creates anti-bodies to the flu virus strains. This immune response is transmitted via the placenta to your fetus, protecting them before and after birth. That’s right: your newborn will have the same anti-bodies present in their system, guarding them against the flu. This is especially important in that your newborn cannot have a flu shot of their own until they’re older than six months of age.

The Tdap vaccine – which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) bacteria – is another vaccine all pregnant women should get. In Manitoba, pregnant women should at least get a Tdap booster if they haven’t received an adult booster. They can also get additional boosters if there is an outbreak.

Again, not only does the vaccine protect the mother, it also protects their baby before and after birth, due to placental acquisition of the anti-bodies. Whooping cough (pertussis) is of particular importance. An adult may get a troubling cough, but the symptoms in infants can be hazardous. Local data shows that from 2006 to 2011, a third of all infants admitted to the hospital for pertussis ended up in pediatric intensive care units requiring intubation for an average of six days, according to Dr. Sergio Fanella, a local pediatric infectious diseases doctor. He also says that 55 per cent of the admitted children were less than two months of age and therefore, are not yet eligible for their own vaccination.

If you are planning to get pregnant, it’s a good idea to check to see if you’re up to date on your measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) booster. If you’re considering travel while pregnant, check to see if you need vaccines such as Hepatitis A and B.

Generally, you should have the MMR booster at least one month prior to conceiving a child, so the anti-bodies are already in place. With regards to traveller’s vaccinations, consult a travel clinic, such as the Winnipeg Health Region’s Travel Health and Tropical Medicine Services clinic, as to which vaccines are needed for the country you are travelling to.

So, along with taking folic acid, it’s also a good idea to have a talk with your primary health-care provider about the vaccinations that will ensure you have a healthy pregnancy and give your newborn a boost at avoiding viruses and bacteria that can cause them harm.

Dr. Vanessa Poliquin is an obstetrician-gynecologist with additional clinical training in reproductive infectious diseases, who works with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Dec. 2, 2016.

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