May 19, 2016

The Power is in Your Hands: Be an Advocate for Your Health — and Your Baby’s

When I was eight months pregnant with my first child – totally caught up in cleaning out drawers and other panicky nesting urges, worrying about how I was inadvertently harming my baby and fearing labor — a scary video of a baby dying of whooping cough (pertussis) circulated on social media. Of course I got the link about 10 times, as other panicky nesting moms in my mom groups spread it like — well, a virus. 

I didn’t watch the video. I didn’t need to. I work for Immunize Nevada, and as part of my staff onboarding, I took an online immunization course that showed a baby suffering from whooping cough. I could barely handle the video back then, long before I was even thinking about being a mom. Now here I was, having recently sworn off cute dog videos due to hormonal crying outbursts; I definitely didn’t need to see the helplessness of an infant struggling to breathe as they succumbed to pertussis.

As heartbreaking as the video is, I was glad the mother decided to speak out after her devastating loss, because it gave other mothers a chance to have those conversations about the importance of pregnancy vaccines with their support networks. It gave me a chance to let my friends and family know that I wasn’t being ridiculous by asking them to get vaccinated if they were going to be around the baby.

Because the bottom line is this: With all the question marks and unknowns swirling around the process of giving birth, this brave mom’s post was affirmation that the power was in my hands. I had the power to be educated about vaccinations, I had the power to make decisions on behalf of my unborn child, and I had the power to insist that others who wanted to be around my baby needed to be vaccinated.

And I made sure my friends on Facebook knew exactly where I stood.

While I was spreading the word about how important protecting my daughter from pertussis was to me, I began to realize that not all pregnant women understand they even have the power to protect their infants like this in the first place. I learned that many of my pregnant friends had no idea they were supposed to get vaccinated while pregnant. Others who had a baby recently did not get vaccinated because no one in their prenatal care recommended the vaccines.  This shocked me.  How could these parents not be getting the message? 

What Vaccines Do Pregnant Women Need?

It’s not complicated. Pregnant woman should get two vaccines – the flu vaccine and the Tdap vaccine, which protects against pertussis.  The mother passes the immunity on to her baby for those fragile first months until the baby is old enough to get vaccinated. Dads, partners and other close relatives who will have regular contact with the baby should have an annual flu vaccine and a Tdap vaccine in the last 2-5 years to eliminate more opportunities for the baby to come in contact with pertussis in a process called cocooning.

  • Here is more info from the CDC on vaccines for pregnant women.
  • For more information about how pregnant women can protect their babies through vaccination, please take a moment to read “Your Pregnancy: Protecting Baby Starts Now” on Immunize Nevada’s website.
  • A recent (and large) study confirmed that pregnant women who get their annual flu vaccine protect both themselves and their infant, too. Read about the study here.

My Pregnancy Story

Because of my knowledge of these vaccines, I knew to ask for them. When my OB’s office didn’t have flu vaccine available, I proactively went to a Walgreens pharmacy and secured one on my own.

Because the power was in my hands.

As my pregnancy moved along and my belly got bigger, I got more and more worried about pertussis.  I was well into my 3rd trimester and had not yet received the Tdap vaccine. The CDC recommends that pregnant women should get the Tdap vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks; so at my 35 week appointment, I decided I wasn’t taking any more chances of her arriving early and entering the world unprotected. When I checked in, I told them I wanted the Tdap vaccine that visit. And they gave it to me.

Because the power was in my hands.

Be An Advocate For Your Health — And Your Baby’s

What I took away from this whole experience is that you need to be an advocate for your health and your baby’s health when it comes to vaccines. We can’t always rely on prenatal care to remind us of vaccinations. Someone needs to make sure expecting parents are getting the message, empowering parents to demand the best protection for them and their babies.

Here in Nevada, that someone is Immunize Nevada. In fact, Immunize Nevada wants to make sure every pregnant woman and new mom has access to immunization information. In addition to our resources, pregnant women and new parents can sign-up for or download the text4baby app. It's a free service for pregnant women and new mothers providing immunization information, personalized appointment reminders, health alerts and nutrition advice through text messaging.

The moment my daughter was born — three days before her due date, 7 lbs 14 oz, with a full head of dark brown hair — I looked into her eyes and realized how powerless we as humans sometimes are. I can’t protect her from everything, but I can (and did) ensure she was born healthy and protected from pertussis and the flu.

The power was in my hands, and now, I’m hoping to spread this message to others. Please tell anyone you know who is expecting a baby these simple words: “The power is in your hands” — the power to protect, the power to demand others be protected, the power to ask for what you need to provide the best life possible for your baby.

Betsy VanDeusen

With over ten years as a non-profit professional, Betsy VanDeusen has experience in fundraising, direct service to youth, administration, special events and volunteer management. Betsy has worked with many Las Vegas area nonprofit organizations including The Animal Foundation, United Way of Southern Nevada, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Las Vegas and Teach For America – Las Vegas Valley.  A big believer in giving back to the community, Betsy has a long history of community engagement from serving as an AmeriCorps Volunteer with City Year Boston, class of 2000 and as a founding member of the Red Rock Rotary Club.

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