Baby vaccinations and immunisations: everything you need to know
Read time: 5 minutes
Baby vaccinations play an important part in laying the foundations for your child’s lifelong health, protecting them against serious infection and disease. In fact, the World Health Organisation says: ‘The two public health interventions that have had the greatest impact on the world’s health are clean water and vaccines'1.
Vaccinations are very safe, but it is understandable that you may have concerns. In this article we’ll help you to feel prepared and answer some common questions.
Passive and active immunity
Your baby’s immunity starts to build during pregnancy, as your antibodies are passed through the placenta2. Breastfeeding continues this important process, but the protective effect from your antibodies is only short-lived. This ‘passive immunity’ gives your baby a fantastic start but will not protect them against serious illness over the long term3. To be protected they need to start creating their own antibodies; this is called ‘active immunity’3. Babies born prematurely or by caesarean can have a lower ‘passive immunity’, making vaccination even more critical4.
Get the support you need, the moment you need it
How do vaccines work?5
Vaccinations help your baby to build up lifelong immunity by enabling their body to create its own antibodies against specific serious diseases or infections. Vaccines give your baby small, manageable doses of the bacteria or virus it will protect them against. This stimulates their immune system, teaching it how to fight off the illness in the future.
"The protective effect from your antibodies is only short-lived3"
Baby vaccination schedule
Your baby’s immunisations are given on a schedule that starts when they are eight weeks old and continues at defined intervals throughout their childhood8. This schedule is important because it delivers the right dose for your baby’s age and ensures there are no gaps in their protection. Your doctor’s surgery or health clinic will send you your baby’s appointments automatically. These vaccinations are free through the NHS in the UK.
How are vaccines given to my baby?
Vaccines are given as single or combined dose injections and administered orally as drops, or through nasal sprays6. Injections will usually be given into your baby’s thigh and then into their upper arm once they are a year old6.
Single-dose vaccines include meningitis B (MenB), rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccine (PCV)6. Rotavirus is given orally using a dropper7. Flu vaccines, which are delivered through a nasal spray, will be offered to your baby when they are two years old8.
Combined vaccinations include: DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB. This stands for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b and hepatitis B. Also known as the ‘6-in-1’ vaccine, it is given in one injection6.
What happens on the day?
Your healthcare professional will check that your baby is well before proceeding with the vaccinations. Be sure to let them know if your baby has a fever, diarrhoea or has been ill, as they may decide to delay for a few days.
You may have to remove your baby’s clothing, so dress them in clothes that are easy to take on and off9.
You will be able to cuddle your baby on your lap during the appointment but be prepared for some crying after injections. Remember, it’ll be over very quickly. They’ll soon forget all about it and you are building up their immunity to protect them.
If you are calm and positive, your baby will feel reassured. Take a favourite toy or treat with you to distract them. Some health centres give stickers and certificates for bravery to older babies and toddlers too.
"If you are calm and positive about vaccinations, your baby will feel reassured.7"
What are the side effects of vaccines in babies?
All vaccines are thoroughly tested and go through rigorous licensing checks before they are brought to the market. Serious side effects are extremely rare, and your baby is far more likely to get ill from a preventable disease than from the vaccine5.
Some babies may experience minor temporary side effects, including:
- A raised temperature or fever.
- Tenderness or redness at the injection site.
If your baby gets a fever, you can give them infant paracetamol. Make sure you follow the instructions carefully9.
Are vaccines really necessary? No one gets these illnesses anymore.
It’s easy to think that some diseases are so rare that your baby doesn’t need to be vaccinated against them, but this rarity is the positive result of national immunisation programmes5. It only takes one outbreak in unvaccinated babies for a disease to make a comeback5. Your grandparents may remember when some of these deadly illnesses were commonplace. But ultimately, vaccination is the parent’s choice. If you have any questions or doubts, talk to your GP or healthcare professional before your baby’s first appointment.
- Look out for your appointment letter. Vaccinations usually take place in your local GP surgery or health centre and the first one is at eight weeks. Read about the immunisation schedule for their first year.
- Talk through any worries you may have with your healthcare professional before the appointment.
- Take your child’s red book with you, so that the immunisations can be recorded.
- Pack a bag with toys, spare clothes and nappies in case your appointment is delayed.
- Stay calm and positive throughout the appointment as it will reassure your baby.
- Bedford H. Childhood immunisation: Achievements and challenges [Online]. 2011. Available at: http://www.who.int/global_health_histories/seminars/presentation53a.pdf [Accessed: November 2020]
- Fouda GG, Martinez DR, Swamy GK, Permar SR. The Impact of IgG transplacental transfer on early life immunity. Immunohorizons. 2018;2(1):14-25. doi:10.4049/immunohorizons.1700057
- Nunes MC, Cutland CL, Jones S, et al. Duration of Infant Protection Against Influenza Illness Conferred by Maternal Immunization: Secondary Analysis of a Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(9):840-847. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.0921
- Melville JM, Moss TJ. The immune consequences of preterm birth. Front Neurosci. 2013;7:79. Published 2013 May 21. doi:10.3389/fnins.2013.00079
- NHS. Why vaccination is safe and important [Online]. 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/why-vaccination-is-safe-and-important/ [Accessed November 2020]
- NHS. A guide to immunisation for babies born on or after the 1 January 2020 [Online]. 2020. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-guide-to-immunisations-for-babies-up-to-13-months-of-age [Accessed November 2020]
- NHS. Rotavirus vaccine overview [Online]. 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/rotavirus-vaccine/ [Accessed November 2020]
- NHS. Children's flu vaccine [Online]. 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/child-flu-vaccine/ [Accessed November 2020]
- NHS. Vaccination tips for parents [Online]. 2019. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/vaccination-appointment-tips-for-parents/ [Accessed November 2020
Questions about feeding and nutrition?
Our midwives, nutritionists and feeding advisors are always on hand to talk about feeding your baby. So if you have a question, just get in touch.