When you get a flu shot while pregnant, you can pass along more than just genes to your growing baby. You can actually pass along immunity to the flu.
That’s right — getting vaccinated against seasonal influenza not only reduces your own risk of getting sick, it also allows you to share that protection with your child, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Getting a flu shot is the single most effective way to protect yourself and your family against influenza.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, flu shots are more important than ever before, for you and everyone who will be around you and your little one. Catching influenza and the coronavirus at the same time is possible — and potentially catastrophic.
Why Flu Is So Serious for Pregnant Women
Pregnancy causes many changes in your body as you actively grow a new human. During pregnancy — and for up to two weeks postpartum — your immune system, heart and lungs go through a series of changes.
These shifts help your baby grow and develop normally and prepare your body to give birth. But unfortunately, they also increase your risk of developing severe illness when you’re infected with the influenza virus.
For these reasons, pregnant women are at greater risk of being hospitalized with the flu, as compared to women of similar ages who aren’t expecting. They may even have a greater risk of dying from the flu, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
How the Flu Can Hurt Developing Babies
Another reason to take influenza seriously: It can cause health problems for your child. Fever — one of the main symptoms of flu — can lead to neural tube defects and other developmental challenges. You might also be more likely to give birth early or have a baby who is smaller than normal.
The Benefits of Flu Shots for Pregnant Women and Their Children
The good news is there’s a lot you can do to prevent these negative outcomes — starting with vaccination. The CDC recommends almost everyone 6 months or older, pregnant women included, get vaccinated this year. It’s the most important step you can take against this potentially serious illness.
In one recent study, pregnant women who got flu shots developed half as many respiratory infections as those who didn’t. Another found getting a flu shot reduced pregnant women’s risk for hospitalization from the flu by 40%.
Within about two weeks of getting a flu shot, your body begins producing antibodies against the flu, which you can pass along to your baby. That’s critical because in the first few months of life, your child is too young to get vaccinated.
These antibodies can also pass to your baby through breastfeeding. So, even if you don’t get a flu shot before giving birth, it’s a good idea to get one afterward. Anyone else involved in taking care of you and your baby should also get vaccinated.
Flu Shots Are Safe for Mom and Baby
Another reason to pursue flu protection: Millions of pregnant women have received flu shots without serious adverse events, meaning their safety record is long and positive.
It’s safe to get the shot during any trimester. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t get the flu from the flu shot — it’s made with either an inactivated virus or proteins from the virus, neither of which are infectious.
You could develop some mild side effects afterward, including mild fever, muscle aches, and nausea or fatigue. The injection site might be sore, tender, swollen or red. But these symptoms typically pass quickly.
Where and How to Get Flu Shots When You’re Pregnant
There are two major types of flu vaccines — injections and nasal spray vaccines. Pregnant women should get the shot, not the spray, the CDC recommends.
Ask your primary care physician or obstetrician about the easiest, safest way to get a flu shot. You may be able to get one during a regular prenatal visit, or by visiting a Centra Care Urgent Care facility.
The CDC recommends getting your flu shot as soon as possible — preferably in September or October. However, as long as flu viruses are spreading in your community, there’s truly no bad time to get the flu shot. It offers protection to you and your baby anytime during the flu season, which might last into April.
You need a flu shot again this year even if you got one during the last flu season. The strains of influenza circulating vary each year, and experts develop new vaccines to match them. Plus, your immunity begins to wane over a year. A new shot bolsters your protection.
Pregnant Women and Flu Symptoms: What to Do
It’s possible to get the flu even after you’ve been vaccinated. You might have been infected before receiving the shot, or you might catch a different strain of flu than those you were vaccinated against. However, vaccination has still been shown to reduce the severity of illness in people who do get sick.
Still, you should call your doctor immediately if you start to develop flu symptoms. These include:
Congestion or runny nose
Head or body aches
Your doctor can prescribe you antiviral medications that are safe to take during pregnancy. They can make you feel better faster and also reduce the chance of you having to go to the hospital. They work best when you start taking them within 48 hours of feeling sick — that’s why it’s important to call your doctor quickly.
Other Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Family
The same steps you’ve been using to stay safe from COVID-19 can also reduce your chances of developing influenza. These include the following:
Avoid people who aren’t wearing masks
Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough
Stay at least 6 feet away from people outside your household
Stay home when you’re sick and stay away from others who have symptoms
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
Wear a mask or cloth face covering in public
Don’t Delay Important Medical Visits
While it’s best to avoid unnecessary activities that may put you and your baby at risk, that doesn’t mean skipping your prenatal or postnatal visits. Getting medical care while you’re expecting ensures you have the safest pregnancy and delivery possible — and the healthiest, happiest baby.
Your doctor can fill you in on all the safety measures taken at the office to protect you and your family from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, including influenza. And he or she can advise you on the safest way to deliver your baby and take care of your whole family afterward.