Should you ban your family from holding your newborn baby?

Is the “no jab, no cuddle” policy enough to protect your baby?

It sounds pretty harsh, but that’s the advice you get when you give birth. If your family and friends haven’t been vaccinated against whooping cough, you shouldn’t let them visit your newborn baby.

That’s right. Your mum and dad may have been hanging out for what seems like forever to meet their new grandchild, but if they haven’t had their needles recently, that’s too bad. Same goes for your pushy aunt. Your chatty next-door neighbour. Your ever-supportive best friend. No jab, no cuddle.

The death of Perth baby Riley Hughes has shaken up a lot of parents.  Riley was just 32 days old when he died last week from complications arising from whooping cough. He was too young to be vaccinated himself.  

So if we get tough and make sure our newborns are surrounded by people who have been vaccinated against whooping cough, is that enough to keep them safe?

Sadly, no. It’s helpful, but it’s not enough.

Vaccinate Granny, yes - but it's not enough.

Professor Peter McIntyre from the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance of Vaccine Preventable Diseases says this strategy will only reduce the risk of a baby catching whooping cough by 50 per cent. That's because the vaccine wears off.

"So there have been instances where an adult has been vaccinated within the last two or three years and yet they’ve still transmitted [whooping cough] to a baby," he says.

Older siblings who have been vaccinated can also pass on the disease because their immunity can wear off before their four-year booster.


Professor McIntyre says women can reduce the chance of their babies catching whooping cough by 90 per cent if they get vaccinated while they're pregnant. They should get the vaccine at between 26 and 36 weeks - ideally, between 26 and 32 weeks.

But if you've missed that window and now have a newborn? Some new parents ring family and friends and tell them to stay away if they have any kind of illness, even a mild cold. That's not over the top - it's actually really sensible.

"Maybe you can’t have the baby in a plastic bubble for the first few months," says Professor McIntyre, "but certainly, keeping babies away from individuals who are coughing is an excellent idea." 

Your baby needs to be protected before birth.

When I was pregnant, I wasn't offered a whooping cough vaccine. I didn't think of asking my family and friends to get vaccinated before visiting, and I didn't ring ahead of time to make sure they didn't have coughs. And yet I'm totally pro-vaccination and health-conscious.

I think back to how lucky I was.

I can't stop looking at that photo of baby Riley and thinking how his parents must feel. No parent should have to go through that.

Save the Date to Vaccinate is an initiative from NSW Health to remind parents of the importance of on-time vaccinations for children. Visit to download the free ‘Save the Date’ phone app.

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