Whooping Cough Vaccination Awareness with Guest Blogger Catherine Hughes

Today we are thankful for our special guest on the blog Catherine Hughes.

You may have heard this name, Catherine is the loving mother to Riley who tragically passed away earlier this year from whooping cough (pertussis) at just 32 days old.

Catherine has worked tirelessly this year to raise awareness of this disease so other families don’t have to suffer the same loss that her and her husband Greg have. You can follow their journey and support them via their Facebook page Light for Riley

Thank you Catherine for your time!

Tasmanian Baby Directory Whooping Cough Awareness

Why it’s important to protect your baby from whooping cough.

This is the advice I wish had been given to me. I’m sharing it with you, in the hopes you can protect your newborn from this terrible disease.

In March this year, I cradled my 32 day old son Riley in my arms as he passed away. Whooping cough had snatched his life away, and I was in shock. I left the hospital with my husband, our hearts broken and arms empty. While we had planned to immunise him when he turned six weeks, sadly he caught the disease before he reached that age. Whooping cough can be fatal in babies, and unfortunately it is really prevalent in Australia. We decided to find out more about how it can be prevented, and do everything we could to ensure this didn’t happen again to other babies.

So, what can you do to protect your baby?

While Riley was dying in hospital, we discovered many other countries had been giving their pregnant Mums a whooping cough vaccine in the third trimester. Since Riley’s death, every state government now offers a free whooping cough ‘booster’ vaccine to pregnant women in their third trimester, recommended in every single pregnancy.

This booster has been studied on hundreds of thousands of women in the US & UK, and not only is it safe to have, it drastically reduces the chance of your baby catching whooping cough by about 90%. This is such an amazing achievement – that babies can now be born with protective antibodies that keep them relatively safe from the disease. If only it was something we had been offered, then our story might be very different.

Who else should have a ‘booster’?

It’s recommend that anyone who has close, regular contact (eg the father, grandparents) with a baby should also have a booster. This reduces the chance of them infecting the baby – not to mention the fact that whooping cough can be particularly nasty for adults to contract!

What are the symptoms of whooping cough? Riley started off with cold-like symptoms, until developing a cough. Like many babies who contract this disease, his cough didn’t really have a “whoop” sound to it. It was when he lost interest in breastfeeding, and wanted to sleep a lot, that we grew very concerned and took him to hospital.

What else can we do to protect babies from whooping cough? It’s important to ask any visitors to stay away if they have a cold, cough or are feeling unwell. Practice good hygiene, and if you’re out and about in crowded places, consider having a light muslin cloth covering your pram (or wearing your baby close to your chest).

Won’t breast-feeding be enough to protect my baby from this disease? According to Dr Tom Snelling, a paediatrician with a special interest in infectious diseases from the Telethon Kids Institute, “”Mothers pass antibodies to their babies through their breast milk and these antibodies help to protect against a range of infections. Unfortunately, most mothers only have low levels of antibodies against whooping cough unless they have been recently vaccinated, so relying on breast-feeding alone is not a reliable way of protecting newborns against whooping cough. The best protection occurs when breast-feeding mothers are vaccinated in the last trimester of pregnancy, and when other family members are also fully vaccinated to reduce the risk of exposing the baby to infection. Antibodies are also passed from mother to the baby naturally through the placenta, so vaccinating in pregnancy is also beneficial for mothers who cannot breast-feed their babies.”

For more information on the pregnancy vaccination program in Tasmania, please see:


– Catherine Hughes, Immunisation Advocate & Young Australian of The Year 2016 (WA)

Tasmanian Baby Directory - Light for Riley Whooping Cough Awareness

*images used with express permission from Light for Riley Facebook Page

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