The whooping cough vaccine is offered to pregnant women to help protect their baby against whooping cough (also known as pertussis).

That’s because there’s a lot of whooping cough around at the moment and babies who are too young to start their routine immunisations are at greatest risk.

You can help protect your unborn baby from getting whooping cough in his or her first weeks of life by having the whooping cough vaccine while you’re pregnant – even if you’ve been immunised before or have had whooping cough yourself.

Immunisation’s recommended as soon as possible from week 16 of your pregnancy. Talk to your midwife, practice nurse or GP and make an appointment to get immunised as soon as possible.

What’s whooping cough?

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis):

  • causes long bouts of coughing and choking, making it hard to breathe
  • may last up to 10 weeks
  • is easily spread by breathing in tiny droplets that are released into the air by other people’s coughs and sneezes

The ‘whoop’ noise is caused by gasping for breath after each bout of coughing. Not all cases will make the ‘whooping’ sound, which can make it difficult to recognise the disease.

Babies under one year of age are most at risk from whooping cough. For these babies, the disease is very serious and can lead to pneumonia and permanent brain damage. Babies have already died in the UK because of this current outbreak.

Why are we seeing more outbreaks?

In 2012, there was an outbreak of whooping cough in Scotland (as well as the rest of the UK). There were 1,926 cases of whooping cough in Scotland in 2012. The number of cases went down to 504 in 2014, but it increased again to 958 in 2015 and 1032 in 2016.

The cause of this increase is being investigated by government scientists and other experts. In the meantime, the important thing is to protect young babies, who are the most likely to suffer badly if they catch the disease.

More about whooping cough

Who’s eligible for the vaccine?

All pregnant women from week 16 of their pregnancy are eligible for the whooping cough vaccine. The ideal time to have the vaccine’s between weeks 16 and 32, but the sooner you get the vaccine the better. This means there’s more time for your body to make antibodies and for these to be passed to your unborn baby.

You may still have the vaccine after you’re 32 weeks pregnant, but it won’t offer your baby the same level of protection.

What about other infections during pregnancy?

You’ll be offered a blood test for infections that can affect you and your baby, such as:

  • hepatitis B
  • syphilis
  • HIV

We screen for these conditions because simple treatments can reduce the risks to you and your baby.

More on screening during pregnancy

Read more about whooping cough