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Help Protect Babies from Whooping Cough

Baby sleeping

Whooping 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 vaccinated.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a very contagious disease that is most serious for babies. Young babies with whooping cough can get pneumonia (lung infection), have trouble breathing, or even die. About half of babies younger than 1 year old who get whooping cough end up in the hospital.

People with whooping cough usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others. Parents, older siblings, or other caregivers can give whooping cough to babies without even knowing they have the disease.

Understanding Whooping Cough Vaccines: DTaP and Tdap

Two vaccines in the United States 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, teens, and adults get Tdap.

Father and pregnant mother with toddler

If you are pregnant, you’ll need the whooping cough vaccine during each pregnancy.

Parents, learn more below about how everyone can help protect your baby with whooping cough vaccines:

  • Women pass protection to their babies when they get the whooping cough vaccine during each pregnancy.
  • Family members and caregivers surround the baby with some protection by being up to date with their whooping cough vaccines.
  • Babies build their own protection by getting vaccinated according to CDC’s recommended schedule [316 KB], which begins when they are 2 months old.

Pregnant Women Need Whooping Cough Vaccine

If you are pregnant, talk with your ob-gyn or midwife about getting the whooping cough shot called Tdap. CDC recommends getting it during the 27th through 36th week of each pregnancy, preferably during the earlier part of this time period. After you get the shot, your body creates protective antibodies and passes some of them to your baby before birth. These antibodies give your baby some short-term protection against whooping cough in early life. This early protection is important because babies don’t start getting their own vaccine until they are 2 months old. These antibodies also help protect your baby from serious and sometimes deadly complications that can come along with whooping cough.

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

When one member of a household has a respiratory illness, other members are at risk for getting sick, too. Parents should encourage everyone around their baby to be up to date with their whooping cough vaccines. The table below gives information, by age, about CDC’s whooping cough vaccine recommendations.

Whooping Cough Vaccine Recommendations by Age
Age Whooping Cough Vaccine Recommendations
Birth through 6 years CDC recommends DTaP for children at the following ages:
  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 through 18 months
  • 4 through 6 years
11 through 18 years CDC recommends one dose of Tdap at 11 or 12 years old:
  • Teens who didn’t get Tdap when 11 or 12 years old should get one dose the next time they visit their doctor
19 years and older CDC recommends one dose of Tdap for adults who have never received Tdap:
  • Tdap can be given no matter when you got your last tetanus shot

Not up to date on your whooping cough vaccine? 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.

Babies Build Their Own Protection with Vaccines

Pregnant women give their babies short-term protection by getting Tdap during each pregnancy, but children need to build their own protection. For best protection against whooping cough, children need five doses of DTaP. CDC recommends the first dose when your baby is 2 months old. She will need 2 more doses, given at 4 months and 6 months, to build up high levels of protection. Vaccine protection for whooping cough decreases over time. CDC recommends booster shots at 15 through 18 months and at 4 through 6 years to maintain protection during childhood.

Know the Signs of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough vaccines work well, but cannot prevent all cases of this serious disease. Whooping cough starts like the common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing, a mild cough, or fever. But after 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing can begin.

Unlike the common cold, whooping cough can become a series of violent and rapid coughing fits that continue for weeks. These coughing fits force all of the air out of the lungs. People make a loud “whooping” sound when they are finally able to breathe again. That sound is how whooping cough got its name. However, it is important to know that many babies with whooping cough don’t cough at all. Instead, it can cause them to stop breathing.

If you or your child develops a cold that includes a lengthy or severe cough, it may be whooping cough. The best way to know is to see your doctor.