Whooping cough immunisation

Whooping cough immunisation

The best way to protect your baby against whooping cough is to immunise them on time.

Whooping cough - a baby in Starship's Intensive Care

A doctor at Starship Children's Hospital talks about a baby with whooping cough in Starship's Intensive Care Unit. At the time of filming in 2012, the baby was 8 weeks old and had been seriously ill in hospital for about 6 weeks. See the transcript.

Key points to remember about whooping cough immunisation

A baby with whooping cough

For information about the disease, see the whooping cough page on this website.

  • whooping cough can cause serious illness and sometimes death in babies
  • the best way to protect your baby against whooping cough is to immunise them on time (at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months)
  • babies catch whooping cough from family members so make sure you, your older children and extended family have a whooping cough booster immunisation
  • immunisation during pregnancy is free - immunisation itself doesn't pass on to your baby, but your immunity to whooping cough does
  • keep your baby away from anyone with a cough, even if they and baby are fully immunised
  • breastfeeding does not prevent whooping cough

How do babies catch whooping cough?

Family members - adults and children - with whooping cough, can pass the infection on to unprotected babies. Young babies are most at risk of a severe or life-threatening whooping cough illness. In fact, it is most often infected parents who pass the infection on to their young babies.

Mackenzie was just 7 weeks old when she became ill with whooping cough, early in 2012. She was admitted to hospital where she spent 10 days in isolation. Mackenzie's Mum, Anna Gibson, says they are pretty sure Mackenzie's Dad gave her whooping cough but it was too late by the time they realised he had it. Mackenzie has fully recovered now but Anna wants to tell her story so that other parents don't have to go through the same experience. See the transcript.

How can I protect my baby from whooping cough?

Young babies are most at risk of getting very sick from whooping cough. Remember that if your baby does catch whooping cough, it can last for weeks or months. Antibiotics are not effective in stopping the cough once it has started. In fact, there is no medicine that will stop the cough once it has started.

Immunisation is the best way to protect your baby against whooping cough. Immunised babies:

  • are much less likely to catch whooping cough
  • are less likely to be severely affected if they do catch whooping cough
  • are less likely to need to go to hospital with whooping cough
  • are less likely to die from whooping cough

Immunisation during pregnancy

Thumbnail image of a poster 'Protecting baby starts in pregnancy'

Having whooping cough immunisation between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy helps to protect your baby until their first immunisations. It also means you are protected from catching whooping cough. It may reduce the chances of you passing whooping cough to your newborn baby when they are most vulnerable.

Whooping cough immunisation is safe to have during pregnancy. Immunisation itself doesn't pass on to your baby, but your immunity to whooping cough does. 

Talk to your midwife or family doctor about having whooping cough immunisation before your baby is born.

Immunise your baby on time

Young babies are most at risk of getting very sick from whooping cough so it is important to:

  • begin immunisation at 6 weeks of age, and
  • complete the remaining doses on time (at 3 and 5 months) to give the maximum protection​

Immunise your other children and family members

Encourage your family members to ask their family doctor about a whooping cough booster before your baby is born.

Parents or older children in the family with whooping cough can easily pass it on to babies who are too young to have fully completed their immunisation course. Make sure you, your older children, your baby's grandparents and extended family/whānau are up-to-date with immunisations. Encourage your family members to ask their family doctor about a whooping cough booster before your baby is born.

Immunity from both having had the disease naturally, and immunisation, decreases over time so children need booster doses for longer-term protection and to decrease the spread to vulnerable babies. Children should have booster doses at the following ages:

  • 4 years
  • 11 years

Whooping cough booster immunisations are also available for older children and adults who are at higher risk of catching the disease or in contact with young babies or other children at high risk. Ask your family doctor about this.

Does breastfeeding protect my baby from whooping cough?

Many parents are not aware that a baby is born with no maternal protection from whooping cough unless mother has had recent immunisation in pregnancy. While breastfeeding protects babies against many infections, it does not provide a baby with protection against whooping cough.

Can I delay immunising my baby against whooping cough?

Delay in giving routine childhood immunisations increases children's chances of going to hospital with whooping cough. A New Zealand reality is that alternative immunisation literature, often given to first-time parents, recommends delaying the start of immunisation. Delay in any of the 3 whooping cough immunisations given in the first year of life results in a 5 times increased risk of a baby needing to go to hospital with whooping cough. Even premature babies can be immunised safely on time.

This page last reviewed 10 June 2019.
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