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Help Protect Babies from Whooping Cough

Baby sleepingWhooping cough is a serious disease that can cause babies to stop breathing. You can help protect babies from whooping cough by getting your vaccine and making sure your baby gets his vaccines.

Whooping cough, which is also called pertussis, is very contagious and most serious for babies. People with whooping cough usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the bacteria that cause the disease. Many babies who get whooping cough are infected by parents, older siblings, or other caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.

When babies catch whooping cough, the symptoms can be very serious. Young babies could get pneumonia (lung infection), and many have trouble breathing. About half of babies younger than 1 year of age who get whooping cough end up in the hospital, and a few even die from the disease.

Understanding Whooping Cough Vaccines: DTaP and Tdap

There are two vaccines used in the United States to help prevent whooping cough: DTaP and Tdap. These vaccines also provide protection against tetanus and diphtheria. Children younger than 7 years old get DTaP, while older children and adults get Tdap.

Father and pregnant mother with toddler

If you are pregnant, you’ll need the whooping cough vaccine in your third trimester.

Because the disease can make babies so sick, and they can catch it from anyone around them, they need protection. These are the three important ways you can help protect them with vaccines:

  • If you are pregnant, get vaccinated with the whooping cough vaccine in your third trimester.
  • Surround your baby with family members and caregivers who are up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccine.
  • Make sure your baby gets all his doses of the whooping cough vaccine according to CDC's recommended schedule [316 KB].

Pregnant Women Need Whooping Cough Vaccine

If you are pregnant, talk with your doctor or midwife about getting the whooping cough shot called Tdap, to protect yourself and your baby. CDC recommends you get your Tdap vaccine between the 27th and 36th week of each pregnancy. After you get the shot, your body will create protective antibodies and pass some of them to your baby before birth. These antibodies provide your baby some short-term protection against whooping cough in early life when your baby is too young to get vaccinated. These antibodies can also protect your baby from some of the more serious complications that come along with whooping cough, such as pneumonia and encephalopathy (disease of the brain).

Everyone around Your Baby Needs to Be Up-to-Date with their Whooping Cough Vaccine

You can provide indirect protection to your baby by making sure everyone who comes in close contact with your baby, from older siblings and cousins to grandparents and caregivers, is up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccine. The table below shows the age that whooping cough vaccines are routinely recommended in the United States.

AgeWhooping Cough Vaccine Recommendations
Birth through 6 years

DTaP is recommended at

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 through 18 months
  • 4 through 6 years
11 through 18 years

One dose of Tdap is recommended at 11 or 12 years of age

  • Teens who didn't get Tdap as a preteen should get one dose the next time they visit their doctor
19 years and older

One dose of Tdap is recommended for adults who did not get Tdap as a preteen or teen

  • Tdap can be given no matter when you got your last tetanus shot

Anyone who isn't up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccine should get vaccinated at least two weeks before coming into close contact with a baby. These two weeks give your body enough time to build up protection against whooping cough.

Find out how to protect babies from whooping cough.

Check out CDC's whooping cough infographic.

Keep Your Baby's Whooping Cough Vaccine Current

Getting the whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy provides your baby some short-term protection, but he needs his own vaccine (called DTaP) to protect him as he grows up. For best protection against whooping cough, children need five doses of DTaP. The first dose is recommended when your baby is 2 months old. He will need 2 more doses after that, given at 4 months and 6 months, to build up high levels of protection. Vaccine protection for whooping cough decreases over time, so booster shots are recommended at 15 through 18 months and at 4 through 6 years to maintain that protection.

Know the Signs of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough disease starts like the common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and maybe a mild cough or fever. But after 1–2 weeks, severe coughing can begin.

Unlike the common cold, whooping cough can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks. Whooping cough can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound. It is important to know that many babies with whooping cough don't cough at all. Instead, it can cause them to stop breathing.

When you or your child develops a cold that includes a prolonged (lengthy) or severe cough, it may be whooping cough. The best way to know is to contact your doctor.

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