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Safety & Prevention

How to Cocoon a Newborn: Only an E-Mail Away!

​In 2012, Washington declared that whooping cough (pertussis) had reached epidemic levels. It had already reached epidemic levels in California back in 2010. These pockets of rising infection and epidemic level increase risk for new babies. Infants are most susceptible to life-threatening infections from whooping cough and have very little immunity.

What Does it Mean to Cocoon a Newborn?

In clinic I’ve been urging new parents to cocoon their babies; that is, provide a family of surrounding protection by having every single child and adult immunized against whooping cough, influenza, and other vaccine-preventable illnesses. By surrounding a baby with only immunized people, you cocoon the baby against serious infections.

The Importance of the Tdap Vaccine

Whooping cough is a highly infectious respiratory illness spread by sneezing and coughing that can be deadly to young infants. Getting a tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis (Tdap) shot is the best way to avoid getting whooping cough.

Amid an epidemic, we worry most about newborns because they are most vulnerable to complications and lack vaccine protection. If every child and adult who surrounds a newborn gets a Tdap shot, the likelihood of the baby getting whooping cough approaches zero. Most newborns get whooping cough from their family or adults around them. That’s where an e-mail comes into play.

Write an E-mail to Family and Friends to Explain

You may have to be fairly Mama/Papa Bear about this. You’ll have to show some strength to create a very safe home, even when it feels somewhat over the top. As I said to a number of families, “It only seems entirely over-the-top nuts until we lose another newborn to pertussis.” Being smart now will save lives.

Here is a sample e-mail for you to use/copy/share:

Hi there,

We are hoping we get to see you and introduce you to our new baby sometime in the next few months!

Due to the pertussis epidemic around here and the fact that flu incidence is peaking, I am being a stickler about only having visitors who have had the flu shot and Tdap vaccine. We just got back from our doctor, who emphasized how important this is, as both—especially pertussis—are very serious for infants. A Tdap shot should be completed 2 weeks before hanging out with a newborn.

You can get both at your doctor’s office and at many pharmacies that do vaccines. Thanks for understanding.


Getting vaccinated with Tdap is especially important for adults who are around infants—new parents, grandparents, babysitters, nannies, and health care professionals.

Additional Information & Resources:

Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP
Last Updated
Mama Doc Medicine: Finding Calm and Confidence in Parenting, Child Health, and Work-Life Balance (Copyright © 2014 Wendy Sue Swanson)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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