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Midwives are often asked about vaccinations – do we recommend them?

I know many care providers who posture that they don’t want to sway a client one way or another, that their own choices do not reflect what the woman herself might choose, but with minimal pressure will tell all they know about “baby shots.”

I tried this “It doesn’t matter what I did” tactic for about a minute or two and then decided to just answer the questions asked.

I selectively vaccinated (I will not call them immunizations because they do not immunize) after my second child had a serious reaction to her first DPT (this was in 1984). The pediatrician who saw her in the emergency room and her own pediatrician later said to never give her the pertussis vaccine again. She screamed for twelve hours and had a fever of 104 degrees for three days. It was horrible!

I was just learning about vaccinations when I birthed my second at home. When we went to the Newborn Nursery to have her checked out and weighed, one snotty nurse said, “Are you going to vaccinate this child?” I replied with an “Of course!” Little did I know how my attitude would change over time.

Lest you think what is coming is a tirade about vaccinations, you would be wrong. I have extremely mixed thoughts and feelings about these injections. I thought it would be good to get it down and hear what others had to say regarding the challenges to this topic I want to offer.

Instead of not vaccinating at all, we chose to alter the schedule of shots and to eliminate those we didn’t want or need. When my kids were babies, they didn’t get but about 20 shots by the time they were six years old. Today, that number is upwards of thirty.

I find that those who want to selectively vaccinate do what I did with my own kids. The first alteration is waiting to give even the first shot. I know less than a handful of families that allow the Hepatitis B shot, even if the baby was born in the hospital. I encourage the series if someone in the family has Hepatitis or HIV and to consider it if the baby will be in childcare anytime under the first year of life (one never knows what care providers are carrying around).

I get the HepB vaccine myself because I work in a high risk job. Body fluids abound and I rarely have anyone's entire story. It's important to note, though, that every three years or so, my immunity wanes and I have to have a booster. Come to find out, it isn't just the HepB that does this! Many, if not all, of the vaccines lose their umph over time and people need to be re-vaccinated to boost the properties once originally thought to last a lifetime.

If it took all these years to learn boosters were needed in adults, how many other "uh-oh's" are we going to learn over time?

When we did vaccinate, we started once the kids were eating solid foods. We felt that as long as they were nursing exclusively, they were protected.

When they began getting shots, we separated them, taking the bundles apart and not overwhelming their bodies with so much of an assault. We also spaced them apart by 3-6 months. And we NEVER got them vaccinated even if they had so much as a sniffle. The recommendations now say “moderate or severe” illness; I think that isn’t enough of a warning.

The largest discussion is that of mercury/thimerosal and the industry seems to be taking care of it by removing thimerosal from the vaccinations. What has been implied by some pediatricians, however, is there is a five-year backlog of thimerosal-laden vaccines, so be sure your doctor does not acquire his/her medications from old stock.

No discussion of vaccinations would be complete without mentioning Chicken Pox Parties. In all the hundreds of children I have known with chicken pox, I've never known one to be more than chicken pox-ill. Apparently, children can get very ill (and even die) from chicken pox. Who knew? If I were needing to make the decision about whether to vaccinate for varicella or not, I would probably choose not to. When any neighborhood kid got chicken pox, all of a sudden it was indoor crayon marathons to try to get any who hadn't had the disease infected. I wonder what pediatricians think about Chicken Pox Parties being held to this day.

It's also important to note that I have strong feelings about rubella shots being given to girls and mumps vaccines for the boys(that they SHOULD be given). Knowing a child damaged by her mother's rubella during pregnancy was the first time I thought, "Maybe I was wrong... or at least have something more to learn." One reason we test rubella titers in pregnancy is because the disease can be so devastating to a fetus. I pray I never see the damage again.

Four anecdotes highlight my own confusion about vaccinations:

1. A former client, a pediatric home health nurse who tended to kids released from the hospital because insurance wouldn’t pay anymore, made the off-handed comment that the sickest kids she saw were those that had had their vaccinations.

2. A non-vaxing friend who poo poo'd the idea that vaccinations even did anything was preparing for a trip to South Africa. She began scheduling her vaccinations and I looked at her, puzzled by her behavior. Why would she vaccinate herself but not her children (who were remaining home)? Why would the vaccinations be effective for her when she was in Africa, but not for her kids in the United States? I’m not sure she’d thought of that argument herself. I’ve since asked this question of others who travel out of the country and have been told much of the issue is the vulnerability of babies – to which I reply, “Exactly!”

3. I have heard the argument that their babies aren’t in daycare/traveling abroad/formula fed/around strangers/etc., yet our babies are surrounded by those that are in daycare/travel abroad/formula fed/around strangers/etc. Some of our kids are all of those variables!

4. I never saw pertussis in a baby or child until I moved to Southern California and worked in holistic healthcare. Suddenly, all these babies who had not been vaccinated were getting ill. I’ve now seen at least twelve cases of pertussis in the last five years.

It’s easy to see I am as confused with anecdotes and information as the next person. I believe each person needs to research and do the best thing for their own family. There are few decisions as final as giving vaccinations, but even if you give one (or ten) doesn’t mean you have to give the rest. But, as some would tell you, just one was enough to change their lives forever.

Opinions? Thoughts?

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Reader Comments (21)

I see most times that even though clients go on to inform themselves, most know without a doubt that they won't be selecting the Hep B vaccine--that it's something baby can decide for themselves when adulthood poses a more realistic risk.

July 16, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterladyelms

interesting- I do tell some clients but most I can hold off - it is a big subject and takes a good bit of research and soul searching- these are their children and this is part of the bigger job of parenting- asking trusted friends or care providers can only do so much- knowing why you are doing something can end up giving them the most satisfaction - and as parents also protects us from second thinking and blame if there are any problems resulting from the decisions we make.
Our oldest had similar reactions to her shots and no one told me to not continue to vaccinate. Not until #2 was up for measles shot and the use/export of Green monkeys was forbidden causing a problem with production of measles vaccine that I decided to look into this before I gave any more shots.
There is quite a bit of history to be found.
I had settled on some vaccines were probably useful- maybe not in the time frames recommended things like tetanus- and actually I did prefer oral polio.
As for pertussis vaccine and cases of pertussis- I have seen tons of pertussis in adults- which is how I think children get it -- as for no/verses vaccinated- most of the people I have seen who have had pertussis were fully vaccinated- even the kids- in one big outbreak in the 80's all the local cases were people who were considered fully vaccinated at the time - but they changed the definition of fully vaccinated during the outbreak which made all who had it only partially vaccinated-
and if children/babies who have all their vaccinations to date but haven't had all the shots because they are not old enough to have had them all this is still considered to be only partially vaccinated-
--- I think that there are some diseases that confer inutero active or passive immunity - women with current tetanus shots confer immunity to their babies - and in other parts of the world this is incredibly important - measles is another but I am not sure that vaccines confer any immunity to newborns- but moms who have had measles do confer immunity to newborns -
2 of our kids have had nearly no vaccines and 2 have been partially vaccinated -- since DH and myself have had measles, mumps , rubella, chicken pox- and my brother and I both had mild cases of polio from a recalled batch of sugar cube vaccine in the 60's. s

July 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I really loved your approach and discussion of vaccinations. My learning also occured across children and time. None of my children got vaccinated for chicken pox, because I believe the immunity they recieve from the childhood illness holds better throughout their lives, than the vaccine does. But had they entered their teen years illness free, I would have vacinnated them, because chicken pox in adults is brutal, and often life threatening. I waited until the pre teen years, (as a control issue on my part) before the number of shots in the Hep B series increases after a certain age. I thought it then became an issue of primary prevention. I really appreciated your perspective and trust that you serve women just as well in birth. Sorting through the anecdotes can be confusing...a medical mandated schedule is so much easier to follow. But not always necesary. And sometimes dangerous. Many blessings.

July 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

if more people didn't vaccinate, girls would get Rubella naturally, like chicken pox - and lifelong immunity is so preferable to the questionable-length immunity of the vaccine. I see many women who have been re-vaccinated as an adult, only to have been immune within five years while pregnant.

lifelong immunity only comes from the disease itself, not a vaccine.

I wish we would stop thinking that preventing all these illnesses - or trying to - has no other effects. :(

good post!

July 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSage Femme

There's a really good article in the latest publication of the ICPA, "Pathways". I agree with Sage Femme, we have very little idea what the long term percussions of vacinations are...it is not just autism, but could be at the root of many of the other auto-immune diseases plaquing so many. The intent behind vaccinations probably seemeed like a miracle at the time, but its gone way beyond that now.

July 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Thank you all for what you've added to the discussion. You reminded me of several things I'd forgotten to add, thanks for that.

All of you are right, of course, it is such a complicated issue, there isn't enough space in a blog to explore all the issues. I wanted to start the discussion, not finish it.

Again, thanks to all... I look forward to hearing what others have to say, too. (If you who've already shared think of other things, do share those, too!)

July 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

So, I fully vaccinated my first 3 children, because I thought is was the law, and that I had to do it. Starting with #4, I chose the vaccines we would give. Hep B was one I told my doctor's office I did not want. Chicken Pox came along a little later, so I declined that one for 5, 6 and 7, (1, 2, and 3 had chicken pox (while I was pregnant with #4), and the vaccine came out after #4 was past the age that it was routinely given) but allowed other vaccines at my husband's request. Baby #8 has not had any vaccines, and he is 2yo now.

Interestingly, I found out that my doctor's office DID give my children (4, 5, 6)Hep B. Apparently, due to a lack of communication, my children we given combo vaccines which contained Hep B. The doctor was, of course, VERY apologetic...and I chose to let it go at that. Since then, I am sure to check and verify that they are using individual vaccines (which are special ordered) for my children.

Baby #8 will probably start vaccinations this year, one at a time. Another interesting thing to all of this, is the public school system. I find it infuriating that the schools do not disclose to parents their right to send their child to school without vaccinations. I hear over and over from parents that they are told "If your child is not vaccinated, they may not attend school." Instead of saying "If you choose not to vaccinate your child, you can sign the waiver on the back of the blue card." I have signed those waivers for my kids, always being told "Well, it is your choice, but if there is an outbreak of anything, your child will be sent home, and must remain there until the outbreak is over." Funny thing....there have been 3 outbreaks of chicken pox (among vaccinated children), and my children were never sent home. I don't think they ever checked that blue card once they put it in their file.

July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

A couple of comments on the chicken pox vaccine. I was very skeptical of it at first, because if the immunity turns out not to be lifelong, people who were vaccinated have a risk of getting chicken pox as adults--not good. However, it looks like the immunity does hold, making me much more pro-chicken pox vaccine for two reasons, one anecodotal, the other systemic.

One of my first memories is of having chicken pox when I was (probably) 4 years old. My sister brought it home from school and, typically as it turns out, I got a much more severe case than she did. My memory is not of itching so much as hurting, probably from the fever. And gasping for breath. (Did it go to my lungs? I'm not sure. The memory is so vague it could mean lots of things.) I'd just as soon my child not have to go through that.

The other problem with chicken pox is that your body never rids itself of the virus. After an infection, the virus is cleared from the blood stream, but remains in nerve cells in the spine for life. In times of vunerability, the virus can escape and cause shingles. In the best case scenario, shingles are a painful nuisance. In the worst case, they are deadly. Again, best avoided if possible.

July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDianne

Hi! Just discovered your blog, and love it. :)

I wanted to add to the discussion here, as I have a 10-month-old daughter and many reservations about the currently recommended vaccination schedule. Her father and I have decided to selectively vaccinate, and even those shots will be spaced out. The one thing she won't get is the MMR, because-- even though thimerosal has never been used as a preservative for that bundle of shots-- it's still highly suspect for having a link to autism.

Also, just a thought on what you said about rubella: I was vaccinated as a child, but when I got pregnant with Madison and had my panel done, it turned out my 'immunity' (for lack of a better word) had faded. I was deeply worried about this, but thank God, I never contracted rubella while preggo. My doctor wanted to give me a booster shot immediately after birth, and I agreed-- however, in all the hubbub of Maddie's delivery, it was forgotten.

THEN, some time later, while researching the vaccination issue for Maddie, I stumbled across an alarming passage in "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children's Vaccinations" by Stephanie Cave, M.D. It said that "women who do not develop adequate antibodies to rubella after receiving their initial vaccination during childhood or adolescence may have an immune system condition that makes them remain susceptible to rubella. Therefore, revaccinating these women should be avoided, not only because it will not be effective, but because [Dr. F. Edward Yazbak who did a study linking autism and women who were re-vaccinated right after delivery] also believes that these women may transmit the tendency to remain rubella susceptible to their children through breast-feeding. All the children [in Yazbak's study] who developed autism did so after receiving their vaccinations (MMR in most cases)."

As you can imagine, I was almost beside myself when I read this. I breastfed Maddie, and to think that I could've inadvertently made her vulnerable to autism makes my stomach turn. So I just wanted to let you know, even though rubella *does* pose a terrible threat to babies in utero, the vaccination for it can also be dangerous.

Anyway-- sorry for blathering on. Thanks for your wonderful anecdotes, and for letting me share.

July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

So many things I learn from you women! I *knew* you would add to the discussion. It is so important to learn from each other, isn't it.

Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing the information you have, too. I will keep my eyes and ears open about it.

Since you are new, let me offer this:

I look around and try to put things in perspective. It is hard sometimes and I have to turn my head sideways sometimes to see even a part of the whole picture.

I know (and suspect you know) that we could be scared out of even breathing if we read everything about our air in this world. Be very careful letting something people say/write/imply (including me!!!!) send you to the wiggie place.

We ALL do the best we can with the information we have. I recently wrote about Chernobyl exploding and heaving tons of nuclear fallout 500 miles from where I was laying my newborn baby on the blanket in the park - and wasn't told about the blast for 3 days. What could I do? I cried and prayed my child wouldn't die of cancer; she's standing in the bathroom at 20 years old right now getting ready for work - no comprehension of the fear I felt for those weeks and months after our government failed to tell the Americans about Chernobyl.

Again, we all do the best that we can with what we know and have.

I promise, your close-call with the vaccine will pale in comparison to some other maternal mistake you are destined to make. We ALL make them. We just pray we don't pay for it forever.

I'm glad you're here. Thank you for reading. (I'm not always so frighteningly philosophic! I promise.)

July 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Anon: I am amazed at your grace knowing that your children had been vaccinated without your consent. I wonder how often that really happens (especially with women in the hospital with newborns). I would have gone crazy angry.

Isn't it interesting how we change our actions as time passes and we add children? I know some people think we don't have enough kids to evolve enough as parents. I suspect you have plenty evolved.

Dianne: I'm really glad you shared your experience and knowledge with chicken pox. It is good to have a reminder that it is a much more serious disease as adults.

Rebecca: Thanks for the kind words about my blog, too.

July 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Just chiming in here from a totally different point of view. I had hidious reactions to the triple antigen as a child, and thus for some reason didnt get the pertussis part of teh vaccine after taht. I got suspected whooping cough when I lived in London when I was 23. I will NEVER EVER forget the 3 months or so of gasping for breath, feeling exhausted, and teh medical community being totally useless.
I dont have kids, but when I do, I will vaccinate - essentially for the herd immunity. If I can contribute to that, then those that choose not to can choose not to safely - if that makes sense. Having read some of your blog, I find it fascinating.

July 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTassie_gal

Tassie Gal: Wow... thank you so much for sharing your point of view. It is SO important to hear *all* the sides. Thank you so much for writing.

And welcome aboard!

July 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I've blogged on vaccination, as well. I think there are a whole host of issues that are barely even thought about by most people regarding this issue.

But what I wanted to comment on was your observation of pertussis. For the past decade, at least, pertussis has been making a comeback. And at least half of those who become ill are vaccinated. Researchers haven't discovered why it is that the disease is becoming epidemic in some areas, annually.

It is my belief that researchers have put too much emphasis on vaccination as the suage of disease. Diseases have a natural waxing and waning cycle. I've never seen this fact compensated for in vaccine literature. Throughout the time that vaccines were being created and implemented, huge advances in medicine, public health and hygiene have also occured.

Now that we are seeing a resurgence of pertussis, and recently mumps as well, I believe we will soon learn much more about how well vaccines actually work.

As a parent, myself, we also evolved. DS#1 was completely vaccinated up until age 2, not knowing we had any choice in the matter. While pregnant with #2, we met a family with a vaccine injured child, and that was my first clue that some research needed to be done. We decided to delay vaccination until we could make a decision we were comfortable with. Along the way we decided not to vaccinate at all. We have three more children, none of which were vaccinated. We took #3 in for a tetanus shot once when he stepped on a nail, but it was denied at the hospital and we were told to take him to the clinic the next Monday. I decided that if it was necessary, they would have done it at the hospital, so we never went in again to have it done.

DS#1 is ADHD. Not the 'just can't concentrate' type, but the 'has no self-restraint and cannot control violent outbursts out of proportion to the perceived threat' type. I don't know if this is related to vaccination, or to the epidural meds at the time of his birth. I do my best to avoid it all with the rest.


July 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBekah


Thanks so much for sharing your story. I would love to hear more about your thoughts regarding the epidural and ADHD. The kids I know with it didn't have moms that had epidurals, so my curiosity is definitely piqued.

I'm glad you also shared the wax/wane aspect of illnesses. It's helping me to learn all of this - and I hope others as well.

Thanks so much.

July 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

thanks for your post.

i had a home birth and still nurse my soin three years later. i decided to wait until he was older to start his vaccinations. i wanted to know his personality before i gave him anything.

his first round was at 18mos and it was the planned first round. then we waited another 3mos and got another round. the doc at the time tried to convince me to give him more than the normal shot rounds at that time. i refused. she wanted to give him DPT and MMR at the same time, along with HIB HEP, etc. i told her only DPT or MMR, not both, since i knew those two are the most reactive shots.

he had a febrile seizure that evening, but he was febrile and it was a whole body seizure and while it scared the crap out of me, i also knew that was possible to happen. fast forward three days, no fever, and he had another seizure, a longer one, a full four days after the shots!!!

after ER visit and subsequent neurologist visit with EEG, they determined everything was fine, but said no more pertussis vaccine.

he is now 3 years and 3 months old and has not had another shot. to be frank, i am petrified. i went against my gut on getting him shots to begin with, and then all of that happened, and i just haven't gotten the strength to get back on any schedule with it. i live in tennessee, which has no philosophical waiver available, so i will have to (and do want to) get him some shots. i have yet to find a doctor who will work with me on an agreeable plan.

thanks, lorin

July 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Anon: What a horribly sad story. I am so, so sorry for your ordeal. I know that so many people have issues with MMR, but I continue feeling the pertussis has some major problems... even if it is the aP. I don't know if it is my instinct or if it is just my own history with the P vaccination.

I'm so sorry for your pain - but am so thankful you shared your story. We all need to hear it.

July 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I'm not in a medical field and I have no children, but I want to point out my own history with pertussis at age 12.

My mother worked with migrant populations in California, and so we wound up getting a lot of diseases that most upper-middle-class kids never even heard of, let alone suffered through (Fifths Disease, aka slap-face, really, really sucked, and Ma even contracted TB). She consulted with our pediatrician, and made sure all our shots were up-to-date and clear.

Well, imagine my mother's suprise when my sister and I both came down with pertussis. She went back to the doctor and found out that during a four year period when my sister and I were born/being vaccinated, they didn't add the P to the DTP, *despite* having it written down as such on the form.

I've done martial arts, and I've had broken ribs more times than I like to remember. That pain? NOTHING compared to the two months I suffered continuously with whooping cough.

The other thing is, my sister has asthma, and we contracted pertussis during her peak asthma season. Since that super-cool whooping noise is caused by your lungs being practically collapsed, imagine trying to suck an inhaler at the same time.

July 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSister Mary Hasta

recently made a post about the removal of mecury and decline in autism on my site.......... i do not vaccinate my son

July 19, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjen

Dianne said:"A couple of comments on the chicken pox vaccine. I was very skeptical of it at first, because if the immunity turns out not to be lifelong, people who were vaccinated have a risk of getting chicken pox as adults--not good. However, it looks like the immunity does hold, making me much more pro-chicken pox vaccine for two reasons, one anecodotal, the other systemic."
Dianne, I am curious as to what research you know of that shows that the chicken pox vaccine gives life long immunity. The vaccine has not been around all that long (my older kids got CP 13 years ago and there was no vaccine available then), so I am wondering how it is proved that the vaccine affords life-long immunity. :)

July 21, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSerraNova

You mentioned the travelling abroad issue. Our family has had thought on this. After my first, I decided not to vaccinate my kids at all, at least so far. My husband is from India. If we travel to India, or any part of the world where wild polio is still a major problem, then we may vaccinate for polio. I'm sure we will eventually get to India, and maybe some other places. When that time comes, I'll assess the danger of other diseases.

Besides the polio issue, the big difference between the reality of travelling and our normal life is that we simply don't come in contact with that many people in normal life. We homeschool, so my kids don't go to what I smilingly call the "den of disease" every day;-) No daycare for us. My babies stay very close to me for the first few years of life. And we socialize with a small group of homeschooled kids. I've always felt that my child's risk of getting most of the major diseases is less than the chance that they will get a reaction to a vaccine. If we are travelling, our exposure to various diseases may increase.

April 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTrish

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