The Flu Vaccine and Pregnancy

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Summer is still in its last days, but it’s not too early to be thinking about getting a flu shot, especially if you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant.

First, what exactly is the flu? More than just a bad cold, the influenza virus mostly affects the respiratory tract. It has symptoms that come on suddenly and may include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, coughing, and a sore throat. It can lead to complications such as pneumonia, and a high fever could lead to birth defects in your baby.

For women who are pregnant, normal changes to your body’s immune system, heart, and lungs may increase your risk of flu complications, which can also lead to a higher risk of pregnancy complications, such as preterm labor and preterm birth.

Two types of flu vaccine are available:

  • The flu shot, which contains a form of inactivated flu virus and cannot cause you to get the flu. You can get the shot at any time during pregnancy.
  • The flu mist, available as a nasal spray, which contains a live version of the flu virus but still doesn’t cause you to get the flu. The flu mist is not recommended for pregnant women, but is safe if you are breastfeeding.

How Does the Flu Vaccine Work?

The flu vaccine triggers your immune system to make antibodies against the flu virus. These antibodies circulate through your bloodstream and if they come in contact with a flu virus, they mark it for destruction by other parts of your immune system. It takes about two weeks after you get the flu shot for the antibodies to be fully charged.

When you are pregnant, the protective antibodies in your blood transfer to your baby’s blood as well. They will continue to protect your baby after he or she is born and is able to receive a flu shot at age six months.

Because the viruses the cause the flu can change every year, you need to get an updated vaccine each year as well to remain fully protected.

Is the Flu Vaccine Safe?

Flu vaccines are approved by the FDA and monitored by the CDC. They have been used in millions of pregnant women and have not been shown to cause problems in pregnancy or birth defects.

There is no scientific evidence that shows vaccines made with thimerosal, which is a preservative that contains mercury, can cause autism or other health problems in babies. There is a version of the flu vaccine available without thimerosal, but it has not been recommended for any particular group of people, including pregnant women.

Most side effects of the flu vaccine are mild and can include a sore arm from the shot or a low fever. These disappear within a day or two. When you receive the flu vaccine, you will be given a list of possible side effects and potential reactions to the vaccine that have been observed in other patients. If you are concerned about any of those, talk to your doctor before receiving the shot.

What If I Get the Flu?

If you are pregnant and think you have the flu or if you come in close contact with someone who does, call your doctor and let him or her know.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Cough or sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose

Medication is available that won’t cure the flu but can shorten its duration and make the symptoms less severe to reduce your chances of complications. As with any concerns you may have during pregnancy, if you have questions about the flu, call your doctor.

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