It is the season for sniffles, coughs and chicken soup. Medical providers frequently recommend getting a head start in October on warding off the flu with a flu shot. Does this advice apply to pregnant women?
Believe it or not, the flu vaccine can have a double benefit for pregnant moms: The flu shot not only protects moms, but also protects babies from getting the flu. Once born, babies cannot get the flu shot until they are at least six months old. So, after a pregnant mom is vaccinated, she passes antibodies on to her developing baby. These antibodies go on to protect baby from the flu for several months after birth.
Who should get a flu shot?
Regardless the stage of pregnancy, it is recommended that all pregnant woman get the inactivated flu vaccine early in the flu season, which typically runs from October through May. In reality, however, the vaccine can be administered at any time.
The CDC and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend that all pregnant women get the flu shot during any trimester of their pregnancy to protect themselves and their newborn babies from the flu. Women can also get the flu vaccine postpartum and while they are breastfeeding. Pregnant women should get the inactivated flu vaccine. The live attenuated flu vaccine (nasal mist) is not recommended for use in pregnant women.
It is also recommended that the entire family, including grandparents and caregivers, be vaccinated.
Catching the flu can be dangerous for moms
Getting sick with the flu can be a very scary situation for pregnant moms and for the providers that care for them. Because of the changes that happen to the body during pregnancy, pregnant moms are at a much higher risk of having severe complications from the flu. Changes to the immune system, heart, and lungs make pregnant women more prone to severe illness and illness requiring hospitalization from the flu.
Pregnant women who get the flu are also at a higher risk of having preterm labor and preterm birth. High fever from the flu can lead to birth defects and other problems with unborn babies. This can easily be prevented by getting a flu shot and getting it early.
There are very few contraindications or medical reasons why someone should not get a flu shot when pregnant. It is important to tell your doctor if you have ever had a severe reaction to the flu shot in the past. Research indicates that many people with an egg allergy can still receive a flu vaccine, but it is important to talk to your doctor before you are immunized. If you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to any component of the flu vaccine, including egg protein, you should not get the flu shot.
Signs and symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headache, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. If you are currently pregnant and think that you have the flu, it is important to call your doctor’s office immediately. If caught early enough, there may be treatment options, including a prescription medication that can lessen the symptoms and duration of the flu virus.
One question we get frequently from pregnant patients in our office is, "What if I’m exposed to someone who has the flu?" The flu virus is easily spread through the air and from person to person when someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or speaks. If you are pregnant and someone close to you at work or at home has the flu, you should call your doctor’s office immediately. There is a prescription medication that can help prevent a person from getting the flu after a recent or ongoing exposure.
Is there a link between flu shots and miscarriage?
Lastly, I think it is important to mention a publication that came out in September. This publication showed a possible link between the flu vaccine and a higher rate of miscarriages in early pregnancy. The CDC and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology both agree that there is not enough scientific evidence to fully back these claims. According to multiple well-designed studies, there is no known association between the flu vaccine and an increase in miscarriages. Both groups agree that the actual flu virus poses a greater risk to mom and baby and both groups continue to strongly recommend that all pregnant women get the flu vaccine in any trimester for the protection of both mom and baby.
Dawne Lowden is an obstetrician and gynecologist with Heartland Women’s Group.