Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Swaddle Your Baby in Protection with Vaccines

Elizabeth Knapp, MD, Austin pediatrician
TMA Be Wise — Immunize℠  Physician Advisory Panel member

When we swaddle babies with a folded blanket, we wrap around them three ways: Fold the right side of the blanket over and tuck it under baby, bring the bottom up over baby’s lower half, then fold the left side across to hug them tight. Similarly, vaccines provide three ways we can protect our babies.  



  1. First, we can keep infants safe by making sure the people around them have been vaccinated against illnesses. That protection starts when the pregnant mom gets vaccines during pregnancy, and the expectant father and grandparents get protection before caring for the new infant. 
  2. Another way we protect our babies is by making sure they get their shots on time. 
  3. The third layer of protection comes by making sure we encourage our infant’s caretakers and daycare workers to be vaccinated, as well. 
I’ll detail the importance of each below.

First layer of protection

Expectant parents and others who will be around your baby should get the Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis combined) — if they have not had it — and flu vaccines, in addition to the standard adult vaccines. Pregnant women should receive the Tdap vaccine to protect against pertussis, or whooping cough, with each pregnancy (see TMA's infographic on whooping cough). A baby often catches whooping cough from a family member or caregiver who doesn’t know they have it because their symptoms can be mild. 

Babies under 2 months of age are too young to receive the pertussis vaccine but can become gravely sick with whooping cough. Infants who get whooping cough may develop a cough so severe their face turns red and they gasp for air. Occasionally, very young babies may even stop breathing because of the whooping cough virus — with no other signs of illness. 

When moms who are pregnant receive the Tdap vaccine’s protection against whooping cough at 27 to 36 weeks of pregnancy, their body develops an immune response that protects their infant starting before birth. In fact, infants born to moms who had the pertussis vaccine are 85 percent less likely to get this fatal illness in the first 2 months of life. 

In Texas, August through March are peak months for influenza, or the flu virus. This virus spreads from one person to another. The flu virus in little babies causes high fever, grumpy mood, and a bad cough — and it can be much more serious, even fatal. Women who are pregnant should receive the flu vaccine to protect their health and give their baby protection. All people who care for young infants should get their flu vaccine as well. Infants under 6 months of age are too young to receive the vaccine, but if the people around them have the vaccine, their chance of getting the flu virus is less. Once babies are 6 months of age or older, they should receive their annual flu vaccine to protect themselves. When parents and caretakers of young babies receive their vaccines, they give their baby the first layer of protection. 

Second layer of protection

As mentioned above, the second layer of protection you can give your baby is to vaccinate them on schedule. Here’s why: Each vaccine infants receive in the typical schedule provides protection against illnesses that can cause young infants to die. If parents delay or space out vaccines, it postpones the baby from developing the full immune protection against that illness, leaving them vulnerable. Babies do not get overwhelmed by “too many” vaccines. In fact, their immune system’s response to a vaccine is extensively studied before it can be approved. Many scientists are involved in studying and establishing the vaccination schedule to give babies the most effective protection as early as possible. That’s why doctors urge parents to get vaccines on time to protect their babies when they are most vulnerable to these diseases.

Third layer of protection

Finally, that third layer of protection: Ensuring childcare workers are vaccinated. Although people in the health care fields, such as doctors and nurses, are often mandated to have vaccine protection, no such regulation is in place for childcare workers. As parents and child advocates, we can ask about vaccines in our childcare workers. All childcare workers should have protection against whooping cough from the Tdap vaccine and protection against influenza from the flu vaccine. They also should have received all the vaccines required for adults in the United States, including mumps and measles. To learn more and educate childcare workers you see, check out TMA’s childcare worker vaccination infographic.

Our babies are only young and vulnerable for a short time. As parents and child advocates, we need to keep the swaddle of protection wrapped around each of our babies. Only with the three levels of vaccine protection will we be doing all we can to keep each infant healthy and safe. 

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