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Expect Unexpected: Vaccines Protect Women, Babies

In this article from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on September 9, Dr. Vic Snyder, corporate medical director for external affairs at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, discusses the steps, including vaccinations, that pregnant women need to take to have a healthy pregnancy for themselves and their babies.

A family with a pregnancy spends months experiencing joyful anticipation and occasional stomach-churning anxiety. But at the end of a successful delivery, there is a not a lot of complicated science or lengthy explanation in reporting the result. “She and the baby are doing great!” pretty much covers it.

Unfortunately, not all Arkansas pregnancies end with such joy. Too many pregnancies end in miscarriage, too many women (particularly African American) have serious complications, and too many babies begin their lives having to overcome challenges to their health.

Dr. Vic Snyder
Dr. Vic Snyder

Ideally, a woman will have been getting regular wellness visits prior to getting pregnant, but a newly conceived baby may not conveniently schedule itself around momma’s doctor visits. Many of the hazards of pregnancy could be avoided by going to a doctor at the first hint or suspicion of a possible pregnancy; and then going to all the prenatal visits until the baby is delivered.

About half of American pregnancies are unplanned. This means that we Americans need to do a better job of expecting the unexpected if we are to maximize the opportunity to have a great outcome. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women capable of pregnancy, whether on birth control or not, take a daily folic acid supplement. Cheap, safe, and over the counter, this vitamin helps prevent fetal malformations called neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

Here’s the problem: By the time many women know they are pregnant, these organs have already formed. To be effective, the folic acid must have been available at the time the brain and spinal cord formed. And here’s two more healthy actions to take as a woman prepares for the unexpected: quitting smoking permanently and ending alcohol intake eliminates two risk factors for problems.

Nurturing a pregnancy and then a newborn baby has additional challenges during this covid pandemic, but there is no disagreement among the health groups like the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the CDC. The vaccinations for covid are safe, effective, and highly recommended for women regardless of whether they are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

Suffering through covid while pregnant is potentially devastating for the woman and the baby. A pregnant woman is more likely to have complications from covid than a non-pregnant woman. Baptist Health in Little Rock recently had to expand its number of neonatal intensive care beds because of unvaccinated pregnant women delivering prematurely after getting covid.

Influenza, “the flu,” is another infectious disease that can cause major problems during a pregnancy, including prematurity and miscarriage. The flu also can cause more problems for a pregnant woman than when she is not pregnant, but getting a flu vaccine via an injection is safe and helpful. Household members who are eligible for the flu vaccine should also be vaccinated. Quitting smoking reduces your chances of getting the flu or having flu complications like pneumonia; more good reasons to quit smoking.

Vaccination for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (pertussis) is an immunization combination most of us think of as a baby shot given for very young children. But whooping cough is risky for newborns, so here’s the recommendation for pregnant women: Pregnant women should receive the “Tdap” vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. Why? When the baby is born, it will have onboard some of the antibodies made by the mother, antibodies that will give it some protection against whooping cough until it is old enough to get its own vaccinations. This is called passive immunity because the baby didn’t make the antibodies, the mother did.

Arkansas is battling covid, but life goes on. People fall in love, get pregnant, and have babies. These newborn Arkansans have the best shot at a joyous good start if we expect the unexpected. Vaccinations and good prenatal care protect women and their babies.

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