Pregnancy changes the whole body, bringing on aches, pains, and other discomforts that are usually mild and manageable even though uncomfortable. All that changes when a pregnant woman gets the flu. Changes in her immune system make her more prone to catching the flu than a woman not pregnant. These same immune system changes make it easier to catch colds, too, which further complicates her medical condition, increases her level of discomfort, and compromises the baby’s health. Being pregnant with the flu is not a good thing to do but, fortunately, it can be prevented. Today’s flu vaccine is a good thing to get and is perfectly safe for pregnant women and the babies they carry.
The heart and lungs change during pregnancy, along with the immune system. When sick with the flu or a cold, these organs are at heightened risk of infection. Antiviral drugs can help minimize symptoms and speed recovery but hospitalization may be required. Poorly treated flu can prove fatal. It can also induce premature labor and other lasting medical complications for the baby.
Flu season in North America is traditionally defined as running from October through May but it can start earlier and last longer, depending upon the unique circumstances of each year. The earlier in flu season a woman gets a flu shot, the better protected she and her baby will be for the entire flu season. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the immune system to develop optimum protection against the flu virus so the earlier the vaccination, the better the protection when the virus reaches one’s social community.
Today’s flu vaccine is not just safe during pregnancy, it protects the baby for as long as six months after it’s born. The vaccine has been given to millions of pregnant women over many years with no serious complications documented. Some people, pregnant or not, do experience mild flu-like symptoms shortly after getting vaccinated but this is often a reaction to the vaccine and rarely causes serious illness. In other cases, exposure to the flu virus after vaccination but before full immune protection has developed can result in a usually mild case of the flu.
The flu vaccine comes in two forms - nasal spray and injection. The flu shot, administered by injection, is recommended for pregnant women. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against the nasal spray vaccine for pregnant women because it contains live but weakened (attenuated) viruses that may prove too vigorous during pregnancy. The injection form of vaccine uses dead (inactivated) viruses that are safer during pregnancy.
Flu symptoms should be reported to one’s team of healthcare providers at the first sign of infection. This applies to pregnant women vaccinated or not. The CDC recommends taking Tylenol or its store-brand equivalent at the first sign of fever and letting one’s obstetric team know how much was taken and when.
Seek immediate medical care - call 911 immediately - if these symptoms develop:
- Shortness of breath or other difficulties breathing
- Pressure or pain in the abdomen or chest
- Dizziness that sets in quickly
- Confused thinking
- Vomiting that is excessive or prolonged
- High fever that doesn’t respond to Tylenol or its equivalent
If the baby stops moving or its movements are noticeably decreased, call 911 immediately.
For safest pregnancy during cold and flu season, avoid crowded public places, especially enclosed spaces such as buses, airplanes, movie theaters, and the like. Avoid all contact with someone else sick with the flu or a cold whenever possible. Wear a face mask when in crowds or around sick people and wash hands thoroughly before and after contact with sick people.
Source: "Pregnant Women Need a Flu Shot." US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Web. Retrieved 7 Nov 2013.