Your pregnancy and baby guideCan I have vaccinations when I'm pregnant?
Some vaccines, such as the inactivated seasonal flu vaccine and the whooping cough vaccine, are recommended during pregnancy to protect the health of you and your baby. (An inactivated vaccine doesn't contain a live version of the virus it is protecting against).
Some, such as the tetanus vaccine, are perfectly safe to have during pregnancy if necessary.
But it does depends on the type of vaccination. Others, such as MMR or yellow fever vaccine, have potential risks, and you need to discuss these with your midwife or doctor before making a decision about whether to have the vaccine or not.
Vaccines not usually advised in pregnancy (live vaccines)
If a vaccine involves the use of a live version of the virus, such as the MMR vaccine, you'll usually be advised to wait until after your baby is born before you get vaccinated.
This is because there is a potential risk that live vaccines could cause your unborn baby to become infected, although there is no evidence that any live vaccine causes birth defects.
In some cases, a live vaccine may be used during pregnancy if the risk of infection is greater than the risk of the vaccination. Your midwife, GP or pharmacist can give you more advice about vaccinations during pregnancy.
Live vaccines include:
- BCG (vaccination against tuberculosis)
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
- oral polio (which forms part of the 5-in-1 vaccine given to infants)
- oral typhoid
- yellow fever
Why do pregnant women need to be vaccinated against flu and whooping cough?
During pregnancy, your immune system (the body's natural defence system) is naturally weakened to protect the pregnancy. This can mean you're less able to fight off infections. As the baby grows, you can't breathe as deeply, increasing the risk of infections such as pneumonia.
These changes can raise the risk from flu – pregnant women are more likely to get flu complications than women who are not pregnant, and are more likely to be admitted to hospital. Having the flu vaccine means you're less likely to get flu.
Whooping cough is a very serious infection, and young babies are most at risk. Most babies with whooping cough will be admitted to hospital.
When you have the whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy, your body produces antibodies to protect against whooping cough. These antibodies pass to your baby and this offers them some protection until she or he is old enough to have their whooping cough vaccination at eight weeks old.
Hepatitis B vaccination
If you are at a high risk of getting hepatitis B and are pregnant or thinking of having a baby, you will be advised to have the hepatitis B vaccine. It is not a live vaccine and therefore there is no evidence of any risk to you or your baby.
Read more about hepatitis B vaccination.
Travel vaccines in pregnancy
When you're pregnant, it's best to avoid visiting countries or areas where vaccinations are required. You can find out about travel vaccinations for different countries.
It may not always be possible to avoid areas that require vaccinations when you're pregnant. If this is the case, talk to your midwife or GP, who can outline the risks and benefits of any vaccinations you might need.
If there is a high risk of infection in the area you are travelling to, it's often safer to have a vaccine rather than travel unprotected as most diseases will be more harmful to your baby than a vaccine.
For example, yellow fever is a virus spread by mosquitoes. Almost 1 in 10 people who get yellow fever die from it. The yellow fever vaccine is a live vaccine, but it may be considered necessary to have the vaccination if you're travelling to areas where yellow fever is common because the risks of yellow fever are so high.
Pregnancy and malaria
Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to malaria. This is a serious condition which, in severe cases, can be fatal for both a mother and her baby. Malaria mainly affects countries in:
- South America and Central America
- the Middle East
If possible, avoid travelling in these areas if you are pregnant. However, if can't postpone or cancel your trip, preventative treatment is available. This involves taking antimalarial medicine by mouth to reduce the risk you will get malaria.
The antimalarial medicine you take will depend on which country you're travelling to. In some areas certain antimalarial medicines don't work because the malaria parasite has developed resistance to them.
Some antimalarial medicines are known to affect the developing baby. For example, doxycycline can cause the baby's milk teeth to be discoloured if a pregnant woman takes it after the first 12 or 13 weeks of pregnancy.
Other antimalarial medicines have not been studied sufficiently and more research on their use in pregnancy is needed. But the risk of harm to you and your baby from malaria is likely to be much greater than any potential risk from taking antimalarial medicine.
The bumps website has more information on antimalarial medicines and their use in pregnancy, including:
Protecting yourself against malaria
If you're pregnant, make sure you take precautions against being bitten by insects. For example:
- use a mosquito repellent that's specifically recommended for use in pregnancy
- wear a long-sleeved top, full-length trousers and socks to cover up your skin from dusk until dawn
- always sleep under a mosquito net
Page last reviewed: 20/04/2016
Next review due: 20/04/2019