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 does not contain a live version of the virus it is protecting against.
Some vaccines, such as the tetanus vaccine, are perfectly safe to have during pregnancy if necessary.
But it does depend on the type of vaccination. For example, the MMR and yellow fever vaccines have potential risks, and you need to discuss these with your midwife or doctor before deciding whether to have the vaccine.
Vaccines not usually advised in pregnancy (live vaccines)
If a vaccine uses 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's a potential risk that live vaccines could cause your unborn baby to become infected. But there's no evidence that any live vaccine causes birth defects.
Sometimes, 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 6-in-1 vaccine given to infants)
- oral typhoid
- yellow fever
Vaccines recommended in pregnancy
During pregnancy, your immune system (the body's natural defence) is weakened to protect the pregnancy. This can mean you're less able to fight off infections. As the baby grows, you may be unable to 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 giving them some protection until they're able to have their whooping cough vaccination at 8 weeks old.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine
If you're pregnant, or think you might be, it's strongly recommended you get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect you and your baby.
You're at higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 if you're pregnant. If you get COVID-19 late in your pregnancy, your baby could also be at risk.
It's safe to have the vaccine during any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks up to your expected due date. You do not need to delay vaccination until after you have given birth.
The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any live viruses and cannot give you or your baby COVID-19.
Travel vaccines in pregnancy
When you're pregnant, it's best to avoid visiting countries or areas where travel vaccinations are required.
It may not always be possible to avoid areas that require vaccinations when you're pregnant. If this is the case, talk to a midwife or GP, who can tell you about the risks and benefits of any vaccinations you might need.
If there's 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. Most people who get severe 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, if severe, 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 you're unable to postpone or cancel your trip, preventative treatment is available. This involves taking antimalarial medicine tablets to reduce your risk of getting malaria.
The antimalarial medicine you take may depend on which country you're travelling to, your stage of pregnancy and whether you have any other pre-existing medical conditions. In some areas certain antimalarial medicines do not 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.
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