Whooping Cough - What You Need to Know

Whooping Cough - What You Need to Know

Tiny Hearts Education

Whooping Cough - What You Need to Know

Whooping cough is often a hot topic amongst new and expecting parents, and rightly so. In Australia every year, on average, around 200 bubs under the age of 6 months are hospitalised due to Whooping Cough and 1 bub loses their life.  Regardless of all the education around it, it still remains the second most frequently notified preventable disease in Australia. We've created this blog to help you better understand Whooping Cough and give you the info you need to make informed decisions that are best for your family. 

what is it?

Whooping Cough is caused by a bacteria known as 'Bordetella Pertussis', meaning it's a bacterial infection that affects the respiratory system [lungs and breathing]. It's a serious illness that is most serious in bubs under one, particularly in the first 6 months of life. Bubs under 6 months are at risk of severe complications. It's also extremely contagious, with lots of bubs who catch it do so from older kiddos and adults who may not even realise they have Whooping Cough. That's because some adults and teens who develop Whooping Cough don't develop the 'whoop' sound, making them think it's just a cold, which is why it's so important to stay away from newborns and young bubs if you're sick, even with a mild cold.

how is it spread?

As the Whooping cough is spread through 'droplets'. This means when an infected person coughs or sneezes, they spray particles of the infection into the air, which someone else can breathe in. If these particles land on a surface and someone touches them, they can catch the infection that way too.  

 It's very contagious and easily spread. Because of this, it's highly likely that if someone in the family has Whooping Cough, most, if not all, of the other members of the family will also have the infection. It also means that if a kiddo has Whooping Cough, they can't go to daycare or school for 3 weeks after the start of the cough if they didn't receive antibiotics or until they've had at least 5 days worth of antibiotics. 

signs + symptoms

Whooping Cough often starts out like a common cold [runny nose, fever, dry cough etc.]. Within about a week, it will usually progress to: 

- Coughing, which usually occurs in long, ongoing bouts that often end with a high-pitched 'whoop' sound when bub tries to take a breath in.  

- Vomiting after coughing spells 

- Little ones under 6 months may hold their breath [called apnoeas] or turn blue instead of bouts of coughing 

- Little ones may also appear to be gasping for air or look like they are gagging 

- Difficulty or unusual breathing 

- Trouble catching your breath after a bout of coughing 

- Feeling faint or dizzy after coughing spells 

 The incubation period [time between being exposed to the infection and the start of symptoms] is around 7-10 days but can be up to 21 days. It's also important to know the cough can linger for weeks to months after the initial infection. 

 If you suspect bub has Whooping Cough, they need to be seen by a Doctor. If they have any red flags symptoms [like difficulty breathing], you should call 000 for an ambulance.


To diagnose Whooping Cough, a Doctor or Nurse will swab the nose and throat or suck out some snot from the nose and send this to the lab. The lab will test it to confirm if it's Pertussis [Whooping Cough] or another type of infection such as RSV, Rhinovirus, Adenovirus, Covid etc. A chest x-ray may also be recommended to make sure pneumonia isn't present in the lungs, or blood tests to double check everything else is within acceptable limits too. 


The treatment depends on bub's age, the severity of symptoms and how long they've had symptoms for. If bub is under 6 months or are older but are very unwell or experiencing difficulty breathing, they'll most likely be recommended to stay in hospital. 

 In hospital, they may receive things like antibiotics, oxygen to help them breathe easier, fluids through a drip if they are dehydrated or milk through a tube down the nose if bub isn't feeding well. 

 Even if your kiddo doesn't have to stay in the hospital, they may still be recommended to take antibiotics to reduce the length of time they are infectious. You should also focus on keeping them comfortable, monitor for those red flags they need medical attention and make sure they are at least seen by a Doctor first to double check they are safe to stay at home. 


According to the CDC of the bubs under 1 who are treated in hospital with Whooping Cough, 2 in 3 bubs will have apnoeas, 1 in 5 develop pneumonia, 1 in 50 will have a seizure, 1 in 150 will develop encephalopathy [damage to or a disease that affects the brain], and 1 in 100 will pass away from the illness. 💔 

 The CDC also says older kiddos + adults who experience more serious cases may also faint, break ribs, lose weight + lose bladder control as a result of bouts of coughing.


If the pandamic has taught us anything, it's that we should wash our hands regularly, stay home when unwell and social distance when able. It's also important that people realise that what may seem like a little sniffle in an adult may be life-threatening to a baby, so please don't visit a new bub if you're feeling unwell, regardless of how mild your symptoms seem.  

 There is a vaccine for Whooping Cough. Pregnant mamas are recommended to receive the free Whooping Cough vaccine in each and every pregnancy from 20 weeks onwards, regardless of how long [or short] it's been between pregnancies. That's because the body will actively make antibodies to the vax in pregnancy, which will cross the placenta and provide bub with some protection until they're old enough to be immunised themselves.  While bub will receive some of these antibodies from mama, they won't be fully protected until they're immunised themselves at 6 weeks, 4 months and again at 6 months of age.  Anyone who is in close contact with a new bub is also recommended to get this preventative jab at least every 10 years, at least 2 weeks before contact with bub, which can be accessed through a GP. 

light for riley

Light for Riley is a charity set up in memory of Riley Hughes, who passed away at just 32 days old after contracting Whooping Cough. Riley's parents strongly advocate for the education of everyone about Whooping Cough and its prevention. You can search 'Light for Riley' on Facebook to read the full story, these are just two exerts from a post on their page: 

 "At 10 am that morning, we had a meeting with Riley's doctor, several nurses, and the social worker. Our parents were also there and supported us as we were told that while they weren't giving up hope or stopping treatment, it was not looking like Riley was going to survive. His heart was failing, his lungs were filled with thick mucus, as the toxins from the Pertussis and the subsequent pneumonia had ravaged his body. My whole world was crumbling, and while I don't think I was a total mess, inside my heart was breaking. " 

 "When we saw the nurses dragging the big armchair into Riley's room, we knew that it was "time". Time to say goodbye, time to do the last thing on earth I wanted to do, and watch my baby die. We all had last cuddles, and then it was time. I asked the doctor if there was any chance, even the slimmest of chances. He was very upset and told me that unfortunately there was no hope. Pink foamy stuff had started to come up out of his lungs, I forget what it was but I knew it wasn't good. Riley was placed in my arms, and I was shocked at how burning hot and swollen his tiny body was. Greg crouched next to me, holding Riley's hands. The tubes were slowly and carefully removed, and we cuddled, cried, kissed him, and sang to him a lullaby as the life slowly drained out of him. At 2pm, our beautiful 32-day-old baby left us, left this world, and left us devastated and heartbroken."

taking bub out + about

In most of our courses, we usually get asked 'what age should we take bub out and about?' Unfortunately, there's no clear-cut answer here because it's different for everyone, and it's an individual choice. Some choose in the first few days of life, others are comfortable with 6 weeks after they've had their first dose of Whooping Cough vaccine, while other families decide to keep bub out of highly-populated places like shopping malls and airports until 6 months after they've had all 3. It's an individual choice. All we can advise is to do your research, make a decision with your partner and stick to it. 

How do i tell my friends + family my wishes?

 Again, another common question with a not-so-clear-cut answer. Some people decide to upload a pre-made template on Facebook about their newborn, which covers things like don't visit if you're unwell, no vax = no visit, don't post pics until we do etc. We've got one ready to go on our socials if you need one! Others decide to sit down with their families and tell them face to face what their decisions are. Again, do what's best for your family but in my experience, it's best to be up upfront, tell people early and stick to your decision. You might face pushback, people might tell you you're overreacting, some will refuse the vaccine, and some will insist on visiting because 'it's just a little sniffle', and unfortunately, there's nothing you can do about some of those things because that's their choice. But it's also your right to advocate for your newborn, put them first and do what you need to do to keep them safe. If that means delaying their visit until bub is a bit older or until a later date, then so be it. Don't ever apologise or feel bad for putting your little one's health and safety first. 

 I hope this helps give you some more knowledge and info when it comes to Whooping Cough. it's always important to remember that this is general advice and is not intended to provide or replace medical advice. Always seek medical attention if you suspect your little one is unwell. 

 As always, if you've ever got a question, leave it in the comments on a post or DM us. 

 Helping you feel prepared for parenthood is what Tiny Hearts is all about. Book into our baby + child first aid class, and let us empower you to face parenthood without fear. 💗

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While Tiny Hearts tries to ensure that the content of this blog is accurate, adequate or complete, it does not represent or warrant its accuracy, adequacy or completeness. Tiny Hearts  is not responsible for any loss suffered as a result of or in relation to the use of its blog content... read more

While Tiny Hearts tries to ensure that the content of this blog is accurate, adequate or complete, it does not represent or warrant its accuracy, adequacy or completeness. Tiny Hearts  is not responsible for any loss suffered as a result of or in relation to the use of its blog content.

To the extent permitted by law, Tiny Hearts excludes any liability, including any liability for negligence, for any loss, including indirect or consequential damages arising from or in relation to the use of this blog content.

This blog  may include material from third party authors or suppliers. Tiny Hearts is not responsible for examining or evaluating the content or accuracy of the third-party material and it does not warrant and, to the fullest extent permitted by law, will not have any liability or responsibility for any third-party material. This blog was written for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Nothing contained in this blog should be construed as medical advice or diagnosis.The content on our blog should not be interpreted as a substitute for physician consultation, evaluation, or treatment. Do not disregard the advice of a medical professional or delay seeking attention based on the content of this blog.  If you believe someone needs medical assistance, do not delay seeking it. In case of emergency, contact your doctor, visit the nearest emergency department, or call Triple Zero (000) immediately.

The author of this information has made a considerable effort to ensure the information is in-line with current guidelines, codes and accepted clinical evidence at time of writing, is up-to-date at time of publication and relevant to Australian readers. read less

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