Flu Shots During Pregnancy

Influenza—a.k.a. the flu—is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Symptoms of the flu can range from mild to severe and, in the worst cases, prove fatal.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common for children)

The flu virus is spread mainly through minuscule drops of saliva that are carried from one person to another when they cough, sneeze, or talk.

Due to the fact that the flu is so contagious, health care professionals make a point every flu season to stress the importance of getting your flu shot. The vaccine prevents the spread of the virus, in order to protect not just yourself, but the more vulnerable members of society.

Certain people have a much higher risk of developing dangerous complications from the flu which can prove fatal in some instances. Among those most vulnerable are pregnant women. If you are concerned about how safe the flu shot is for pregnant women, healthcare experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists confirm that it is perfectly safe. In fact, it’s not just safe to get a flu shot—it’s vital to keep yourself and your child healthy during flu season.

Why Should Pregnant Women Get a Flu Shot?

Influenza is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant and postpartum women than women who aren’t pregnant. This is due to changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs that occur during pregnancy. As a result, the body has a harder time fighting off infections, even if the mother is a perfectly healthy person otherwise.

There are several very serious symptoms of the flu that can be dangerous for pregnant women, such as severe respiratory distress. These complications can occur during any trimester. Symptoms like high fever in the mother can negatively affect the baby’s development. Additionally, in severe cases, there can be a sharp increase in the risk of complications such as miscarriage and premature delivery.

Getting a flu vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of flu-associated respiratory infection in pregnant women by almost half and to reduce a pregnant woman’s chances of hospitalization by an average of 40%. By getting a flu shot, pregnant women are also helping to protect their babies from infection for several months after birth when the baby is too young to be vaccinated themselves.

Is it Safe to Get a Flu Shot While Pregnant?

Many expectant mothers are hesitant to get the flu shot because, naturally, they are worried about everything that goes into their bodies while pregnant. The good news is that flu shots have been given to millions of pregnant women with an excellent safety record.

The flu shot is safe at any stage of gestation, whether it is the first, second, or third trimester. It is also safe for postpartum mothers to receive the vaccine, even if they are breast feeding.

For pregnant women, the most effective course of action is to get the flu shot early on in the flu season, which is between October and May. It is fine to get a shot later in the season, however an early vaccination will ensure that you are protected sooner rather than later.

What Type of Vaccine Should I Get?

There are two types of flu vaccine available on the market: a shot and a nasal mist.

The shot version of the flu vaccine contains a form of the virus that is inactive, meaning it can be safely administered at any stage of pregnancy.

The nasal spray flu vaccine, on the other hand, is not recommended for pregnant women as it is made with a live virus. However, it is safe for women to take after they have given birth and are breastfeeding.

What Should I Do if I Get the Flu While Pregnant?

If you think that you have the flu and are pregnant, it is extremely important to reach out to your obstetrician or another health care provider as soon as possible.

It is important to seek treatment right away, since antiviral medication is most effective when taken within 48 hours of the first onset of symptoms. While antiviral drugs won’t cure the flu, they are able to shorten the length and severity of the sickness.

Further Reading
  1. Pregnant Women And Flu Shots” by Helen Ding et al., CDC, 2011.
    A summary of key findings from an internet panel of pregnant women to estimate influenza vaccine coverage for the 2011-2012 season.
  2. Flu Shots vs. Natural Flu Remedies: What Works Better?” by Alex Tate, Journal of Health & Medical Informatics, 2017.
    A comparison of the effectiveness of receiving the flu vaccine versus relying on “natural” flu remedies. Everyone should get a flu shot. It is also important to take health and sanitation measures to kill germs and support your immune system in order to give the vaccine a much better chance of protecting your health.
  3. Effect of an Educational Intervention on the Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices of Pregnant Women toward Influenza Immunization” by Sharon Puchalski, SciFed Nursing & Healthcare Journal, 2018.
    Studied what percentage of women agreed to vaccination as well as the barriers that exist to vaccine acceptance. Results point to the conclusion that providing education and increasing awareness in pregnant women on the importance of flu immunization may improve vaccination coverage in the overall population.