What does passive immunization of the newborn mean?

Who I am
Catherine Le Nevez
Author and references

THEimmunization represents the process by which a person becomes immune and protected against certain infectious agents (viruses, bacteria).  

How to get immunization? In two ways: 

  • through thepassive immunization the person receives from the outside the antibodies capable of defending him against infectious agents. It is an immunization immediate, with a'temporary effect (e.g. tetanus immunoglobulins)
  • with l 'active immunization a person's immune system produces protective antibodies against the infectious agent, either after vaccination or after coming into contact with the infectious agent. Immunization guaranteed by the vaccine is not immediate, but more effective and especially durable

How can I protect my son already during the pregnancy 

A famous example of passive immunity is that acquired by the newborn in the womb of the mother and once it is born. The expectant mother transfers antibodies to her child naturally throughout her pregnancy, peaking during the third quarter. 

In this way, at birth the baby will be sufficiently protected from many infectious agents.  

Passive protection, very important in the very first months in which the child cannot yet be vaccinated, only applies to infectious agents that the mother has contracted or against which she was vaccinated in previous years.  

For example, if the mother has never contracted or been vaccinated against whooping cough, the baby can get sick with whooping cough if he comes into contact with an infected sibling, parent or grandparent. 

Newborns can acquire passive immunity also thanks tonursing. Infants, in fact, through breast milk they receive IgA antibodies, also called surface antibodies, because they are arranged on the surface of the mucous membranes, protecting the child from infections in these areas of the body.  

La passive protection yes reduces until it runs out over the months, while in parallel increases active protection made up of antibodies (IgG) that the child's immune system independently produces thanks to contact with the outside and pediatric vaccinations. 

Unfortunately, however there are diseases that they affect the little ones before they have even had a chance to develop their own defensesThis is the case with various diseases, but especially with whooping cough. Whooping cough is a very dangerous disease, it can cause serious complications up to the death of neonate that: 

  • in the first two months of life he is too young to be vaccinated against whooping cough
  • is exposed to the risk of contracting the disease from siblings or adults around him, often not aware of having contracted the disease, 
  • he does not have or is poorly supplied with antibodies transmitted by his mother, as it has been a long time since the mother contracted whooping cough or was vaccinated. 

Passive immunization antiwhooping cough pregnant 

Infants in the first two months of life are highly susceptible to whooping cough, as they are vaccinated from the third month on.  

For this reason, the fundamental strategy to protect your child even before it is born is represented by vaccination of the mother in the third trimester of pregnancy, ideally around 28a week. 

Pertussis vaccination in pregnancy is participation and is among those recommended by the Ministry of Health for pregnant women.  

In this way, the mother can pass on a higher amount of antibodies to her baby, ensuring that he is protected against whooping cough until he can be directly vaccinated..  

It is important to remember that the mother's antibodies are progressively reduced with the passage of time; because of this it is advisable for the mother to repeat the vaccination at each pregnancy, so as to ensure proper protection against whooping cough for your children. 

Alongside the vaccination of the pregnant mother, they can be implemented complementary strategyi to protect the baby from whooping cough:  

  • cocooning: It is very important that all family members in close contact with the baby are vaccinated against pertussis in the first few months of life, since 80% of whooping cough infections in infants less than 1 year old are caused by a family member. This strategy is called cocooning and stresses the importance of the ten-year vaccination against pertussis; 
  • the mother can still get vaccinated while breastfeeding in order to protect the infant and to obtain the transfer of antibodies through the milk, in case she was not vaccinated in time during pregnancy. However, this is not the ideal strategy, as the amount of antibodies transmitted in this way is much lower than that which occurs with vaccination during pregnancy. 

Including the vulnerability of infants to whooping cough, a complementary strategy needs to be implemented to protect infants from the first days of life. Not only is mom's vaccination strongly recommended in the third trimester of pregnancy, but it is also necessary that people a close contact with the unborn child are properly immunized against whooping cough. 


  • Vaccinations in pregnancy, protect it to protect them Joint document drawn up by the working group SIGO, SIMP, AOGOI, AGUI, SITI, SIN, FNOPO, Intercompany network our maternal and child city (RIMMI), Vivere Onlus, Cittadinanzattiva 
  • Position Paper Sigo 2022 - New challenges in prevention for mothers and babies. Invest in recommended vaccinations during pregnancy. Whooping cough F. Cavaliere, G. Scambia 
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  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500572/ 
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