While your baby may not have made his or her big entrance yet, it’s important to understand the recommended vaccines and schedule now. That’s because some immunizations are given in the hospital, while others happen in the very first postnatal visits. Here are a few things you need to know about infant vaccines before your baby’s due date.
IMMUNIZATIONS ARE SAFE FOR BABIES
Despite the many myths surrounding vaccines, countless studies have shown that immunizations are very safe for babies. For one, the ingredients are safe. All routine vaccines either contain no mercury whatsoever or, in the case of the flu vaccine, only a very small amount (called thimerosal, a type that is eliminated rapidly by the body) and only in multi-dose vials. What’s more, any possible side effects from vaccines are rare and very mild (low-grade fever, body aches). And it’s important to remember that vaccines have never (repeat, never) been linked to autism: The lone study that connected the two was retracted by the journal that published it — and the doctor responsible had his medical license revoked after he admitted he fudged the report’s data.
INFANT IMMUNIZATIONS ARE GIVEN IN THE FIRST TWO MONTHS
Your baby’s recommended vaccine schedule starts at birth when your newborn receives a vaccination for hepatitis B (HepB). At baby’s two-month follow-up appointment, he or she will receive a number of other essential immunizations, including RV (rotavirus), DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis — also known as whooping cough), Hib (Haemophilus influenza type b), PCV (pneumococcal) and IPV (polio) vaccines. Most of these have at least one follow-up shot or oral dose within the first two years; to keep track, you may want to keep a copy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) baby and child vaccine schedule handy.
Don’t forget, some immunizations you get during pregnancy also help protect your baby before and after birth. Two — the flu shot, offered during flu season, and the DTaP vaccine, given between weeks 27 and 36 of pregnancy — are recommended for all expecting women. The flu vaccine helps prevent dangerous complications while you’re pregnant, while DTaP protects your baby from a whooping cough (which is highly contagious and potentially deadly) in the months before he gets his own full dose of that vaccine series.
BABIES AREN’T STRESSED OUT BY GETTING SHOTS
Though no parent likes to see her baby cry, remember that the very temporary pain your baby feels from a shot amounts to infinitesimally less suffering than he’d experience if he came down with a vaccine-preventable disease like polio or the measles. Research has shown that holding your baby and talking or singing during shots helps distract him; breastfeeding just before or after can soothe him and sometimes even help relieve pain. If you’re still concerned, talk to your doctor about giving your baby a sugar solution beforehand or numbing solution after, both of which can also help ease discomfort.
THERE ARE RISKS TO FALLING BEHIND ON THE SCHEDULE
The CDC’s vaccine schedule is recommended for a reason: It works. For some shots, more than one dose is required to build up until full immunity; for others, immunity wanes with time. Skipping or delaying shots puts your baby at risk of getting sick from the illnesses they protect against — especially whooping cough and the measles. So be sure to stick to the schedule and attend all of your baby’s postnatal follow-up appointments.
VACCINES ARE FREE FOR CHILDREN
Vaccines are hands-down the least expensive and most effective way to protect your baby’s health now and in the future. In fact, the Affordable Care Act currently guarantees that all recommended childhood immunizations are 100 percent covered by insurers, making them free to you. If your baby doesn’t have insurance, or your insurance somehow doesn’t cover vaccinations, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program provides vaccines at no cost to kids under the age of 19 at participating doctor’s offices.