Create a Circle of Protection Around Babies

Newborn babies do not have fully developed immune systems, making them particularly vulnerable to infections. When a baby’s family members and caregivers get vaccinated, they help form a “cocoon” of disease protection around the baby. Anyone who is around babies should be up-to-date on all routine vaccines, including the whooping cough vaccine. During flu season, everyone should get a flu vaccine in order to surround the baby with protection. Parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, babysitters, and other caregivers can all help prevent the spread of disease by getting vaccinated.

Family, mother and father with 3 children

Newborns are most likely to catch whooping cough or flu from someone at home

When one member of a household has a respiratory illness, other members are at risk for getting ill, too. For example, researchers have identified siblings and parents as the most common sources of whooping cough infection in young infants.1 Researchers have also found that many other people can get babies sick, including grandparents, caregivers, and friends of the family. For this reason, CDC recommends that all close contacts be up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccine and seasonal flu shot.

Cocooning to help protect babies from whooping cough and flu

Parents should encourage everyone to be up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccine. Anyone who needs the vaccine should get it as least two weeks before meeting the baby. If an adult will be around the baby and has already had their whooping cough booster shot (called Tdap vaccine), they do not need to get vaccinated again. Babies are at the greatest risk of life-threatening complications from whooping cough. The cocooning strategy provides indirect protection to babies by shielding them from disease. Because cocooning does not provide direct protection and it can be difficult to make sure everyone who is around your baby is vaccinated, it is even more important that women get the whooping cough vaccine while pregnant. Getting the whooping cough vaccine while pregnant allows mothers to pass short-term protection (antibodies) to their babies until they can get their own vaccine.

When it comes to flu, the concept of cocooning applies to both newborn babies as well as pregnant women. Babies younger than 6 months are too young to receive flu vaccine, so everyone who cares for the baby should get vaccinated. Another way to protect babies from flu is by vaccinating their mothers while they are pregnant. Pregnant women are at increased risk for flu complications and a flu shot will protect them from illness, but it also has been shown to protect their newborn from flu for the first several months after they are born. Complications from the flu during pregnancy may include premature labor, babies that are small for gestational age, hospitalization, or even death.

Cocooning is more than a precaution

For parents, it is reassuring to know when someone who wants to hold their baby is up-to-date with their vaccines. Some people who have the flu do not show any symptoms, but they may still spread the virus to others. Whooping cough can sometimes appear to be nothing more than the common cold, which hides the true danger it poses to babies. It may take time for symptoms of these illnesses to appear. Whooping cough symptoms usually develop within 5 to 10 days after exposure, but it can take up to 3 weeks in some cases. In terms of flu, healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. This means parents cannot always determine if someone will make their baby sick simply by looking for symptoms of illness. When everyone’s vaccinations are up-to-date, parents can feel more secure about the safety of their child.

1When a source was identified. Skoff TH, Kenyon C, Cocoros N, et al. Sources of infant pertussis infection in the United Statesexternal icon. Pediatrics. 2015;136(4):635–41.

Page last reviewed: October 7, 2016