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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 vaccinated.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a very contagious disease that is most serious for babies. 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.

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

Babies need protection because they can catch whooping cough from anyone around them and it can make them very sick. Your baby gets protection from whooping cough vaccines in three important ways:

  • Through early protection passed from you when you get the whooping cough vaccine in your third trimester of pregnancy.
  • By being surrounded with family members and caregivers who are up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccine.
  • By getting all her 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 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 can’t get their own vaccine until they are 2 months old. These antibodies also help protect babies from serious complications from whooping cough, like pneumonia and encephalopathy (disease of the brain).

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

Give your baby indirect protection by making sure everyone around her is up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccines. The table below gives information, by age, about CDC's whooping cough vaccine recommendations.

Age Whooping Cough Vaccine Recommendations
Birth through 6 years

CDC recommends DTaP for children at:

  • 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 as a preteen should get one dose the next time they visit their doctor
19 years and older

CDC recommends one dose of Tdap 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

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.

Keep Your Baby's Whooping Cough Vaccine Current

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 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 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.

When 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.

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