With motherhood comes many unpleasant responsibilities and making sure your child is up to date with their immunization schedule is one of them. In the past, moms were told they could get the vaccine before leaving the hospital, or wait until baby's first well visit before administering that first dose, but new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics say that medically stable newborns weighing 2,000 grams (4.4 pounds or 70.5 ounces) or more should receive their first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine within the first 24 hours of life.
That's right; you now have less than 24 hours to throw on a pair of big-girl panties, get your postpartum hormonal tears in check and make the decision with your partner on whether to get the vaccine right away, or wait until the first well visit, like you probably already expected to do. And if you decide to wait, you can probably expect some side-eye and an explanation that the guidelines now say you shouldn't wait.
Dr. Karen Puopolo, one of the authors, urges families to follow these new guidelines; maintaining that vaccinating infants less than four weeks old against hepatitis B has been a standard recommendation "for years and years."
"Before, the recommendation was at 24 hours or on discharge from the birth hospital, which meant some infants did not get the vaccination until they were 2 or 3 days old," she adds. "Now we are saying we really think you should get it before you are 24 hours old," as long as baby is born healthy and weighs more than 2,000 grams.
Puopolo warns parents that, without proper treatment, a child exposed to perinatal hepatitis B infection is at a greater risk of facing severe (often deadly) diseases, such as cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). "All of that can be prevented with timely administration of the hepatitis B vaccine," she says.
Though other factors may come into play, prompting some families to administer dosage sooner (such as a mother diagnosed with hepatitis B before pregnancy), both the AAP and the Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices believe that the safest thing to do is vaccinate your child before 24 hours of age.
"This gives us the advantage of dealing with cases where the mother's hepatitis B status is not known at birth," Puopolo added. "It also accounts for cases in which the mother has tested negative in error, or has acquired the virus after being tested."
The underlying message here is that parents should discuss immunizations before the baby is born so that they don't have to make a snap decision under stress.
And if you're worried about your baby being in pain, that shouldn't really be a concern. The AAP recommends breastfeeding while your baby gets vaccinated because nursing actually blocks pain signals sent by the brain, so it can actually reduce your baby's discomfort. In fact, researchers have previously found that babies who nursed while being vaccinated cried 38 seconds less than babies who weren't being breastfed.