Planning to skip a flu shot because you’re pregnant? Think again. Dr. Horsager strongly recommends getting a flu shot during your pregnancy to protect you and your baby.
Fall. It’s the time of year most people think about turkey, pumpkin pie and Christmas trees. But in our office, fall means the start of flu season and the need to encourage our patients to get their flu immunizations.
Getting a flu shot is an important preventative measure, but, surprisingly, many patients are reluctant to carry out this simple step. Last year, almost half of pregnant women in the United States didn’t protect themselves and their babies by getting flu shots during pregnancy.
I’d like to discuss why getting a flu shot – the nasal spray vaccine is not recommended at all this year – during pregnancy matters so much.
A flu vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy. One study that examined flu vaccine effectiveness in pregnant women found that the vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection by about one half.
Women who get the flu while pregnant are more likely to suffer severe consequences such as being hospitalized, admitted to an intensive care unit, or death. In fact, during the flu pandemic of 2009, pregnant women made up 5 percent of the deaths even though they represented only 1 percent of the population. Also, pregnant women who get the flu may deliver prematurely or have a stillbirth.
Women commonly give us two reasons for not wanting to get a flu shot during pregnancy:
“I’ll catch the flu from the shot.”
No, you won’t. A flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. You may have some side effects from the immunization, including muscle soreness, fatigue or low-grade fever. These symptoms are annoying, but they’re not nearly as bad as getting the full-blown flu! I like to think about these reactions as your body letting you know it’s working hard to make the antibodies that will ultimately protect you and your baby.
“The flu shot may harm my baby. I’ll think about getting it after I deliver.”
First, the flu shot is safe for your fetus. Period. The flu shot doesn’t cause birth defects. By being immunized during your pregnancy, you’re protecting your baby from early delivery and even death, both of which can result from maternal flu during pregnancy. You can safely receive a flu shot at any time during pregnancy.
And there’s another very important reason not to wait until after delivery.
Protecting your newborn infant
Getting a flu vaccination during pregnancy protects your newborn baby from the flu. When you get the flu shot during pregnancy, your body produces antibodies that are shared with your baby. These antibodies will even protect your baby for months after she’s born. Your baby can’t be vaccinated against influenza until she’s 6 months old, which means there’s a lot of time during which she’ll be vulnerable to infections and can catch the flu from another person.
We know that vaccinating moms during pregnancy works. Studies have clearly shown that infants of mothers who were immunized against flu during pregnancy were much less likely to experience flu-like illnesses or be hospitalized with the flu during the first six months of life. If you wait until after delivery to receive your flu shot, you have lost the one chance you have to protect your baby from the flu starting at birth.
Be an advocate for your own health and the health of your baby. If your doctor doesn’t mention getting a flu shot — ask.
For more information about pregnancy, labor, and delivery, sign up to receive Your Pregnancy Matters email alerts when we publish new stories. You can also make an appointment to see one of our specialists by calling 214-645-8300.