The Flu Vaccine and Pregnancy

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Influenza – or the flu – is more than just a bad cold. Symptoms come on suddenly and can include fever, headache, extreme fatigue, muscle aches, coughing, and sore throat. The flu can lead to complications such as pneumonia or bronchitis. If you are pregnant, a high fever could lead to birth defects in your baby.

If you are pregnant, normal changes to your body’s immune system, heart, and lungs may increase your risk of flu complications. This can also lead to a higher risk of pregnancy complications, such as preterm labor and preterm birth. That is why it is important for you to get the flu vaccine.

The Flu Vaccine

There are two types of flu vaccine available:

  • The flu shot. This contains a form of inactivated flu virus. It cannot cause you to get the flu. You can get the shot at any time during pregnancy.
  • The flu mist. This is available as a nasal spray that 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 it is safe if you are breastfeeding.

Most side effects of the flu vaccine are mild. You may get a sore arm from the shot or develop a low fever. These will go away 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 vaccine.

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. 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 your 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 six months old.

Because the viruses the cause the flu can change every year, any antibodies your body has developed in response to a previous vaccine may not protect you against the current flu virus strain. That means you need to get an updated vaccine each year to remain 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 mercury-containing preservative used to prevent the growth of bacteria in vaccines, can cause autism or other health problems in babies or children. There is a version of the flu vaccine available without thimerosal, but it has not been recommended over the other version for any particular group of people, including pregnant women.

What If I Get the Flu?

If you are pregnant or have had a baby within the past two weeks and you think you have the flu or 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

Your doctor can prescribe antiviral medication that won’t cure the flu, but it can shorten its duration and make the symptoms less severe. This will 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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