Pregnant women who will be pregnant or give birth during flu season are encouraged to have the flu vaccination. Pregnancy reduces natural immunity, which makes pregnant women more susceptible to contracting the flu. In 2009, women who received the H1N1 flu vaccination earned an additional benefit – reduced risk of preterm birth. A study from researchers at the Rollins School of Public Health outlines the impact the flu vaccination can have on the fetus.
Researchers gathered information from more than 3,300 medical records stored by Kaiser Permanente. Records were created between April 2009 and 2010. Researchers compared the birth outcome of mothers who received the H1N1 vaccination to mothers who did not receive the vaccine. Women who received the vaccine were less likely to give birth early and their infants weighed more than infants born to mothers in the unvaccinated group.
According to Jennifer Richards MPH, study author, the results support what many doctors already accept. “Our findings confirm the importance of receiving the influenza vaccine during pregnancy in order to protect the infant's health.” Infant or fetal health is ultimately the goal of prenatal care, but normal prenatal care does not include a mandatory flu vaccination. Flu vaccines are voluntary, so researchers are hoping studies like this one will encourage more women to seek out vaccination.
There has been skepticism among pregnant women about the safety of the flu vaccination. Some women believe the vaccine will hurt the fetus or cause a case of the flu. The flu vaccination may cause some mild common cold-like symptoms, but it will not cause the flu. The vaccination is not associated with negative side effects for the mother or fetus, in most cases, but there are potential negative side effects if a pregnant woman contracts the flu. The flu virus is associated with adverse effects on fetal health and pregnancy complications which can lead to hospitalization.
Saad Omer PhD, study author, believes pregnant women should be protected as much as possible from contracting the flu. “There is always an understandable heightened sense of caution by pregnant women. Getting vaccinated has proven to be the best protection.”
Source: Woodruff Health Sciences Center. February 19, 2013.