- Pregnant women should plan to get their flu shot at the start of the flu season in October.
- The flu shot doesn’t just protect the mother, it also protects the baby against the flu virus after birth.
- You can still get the flu even if you’ve had a flu shot. If you’re pregnant and get the flu, contact your physician immediately.
- This article was reviewed by Tania Elliott, MD, who specialises in infectious diseases related to allergies and immunology for internal medicine at NYU Langone Health.
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Expectant mothers are at an increased risk of developing complications from the flu, so a flu shot is especially important if you’re pregnant.
Here’s what you need to know about getting the flu shot while pregnant.
When to get a flu shot while pregnant
The best time to get your flu shot is in October, which is early in the flu season, says Dr. Laura Riley, an obstetrician and gynecologist-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Centre.
It doesn’t matter which trimester you’re in, or if you’re carrying twins, quintuplets, or a single baby, doctors say that the flu shot is safe to get at any point in your pregnancy as well as when you’re breastfeeding.
Why get a flu shot while pregnant
“The flu is usually a self-limiting infection in healthy people, but can be dangerous and even life-threatening in certain high-risk people, including pregnant women,” says Dr. Mia Di Julio, OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre.
Because of their weakened immune system during pregnancy, expectant mothers are at a greater risk of developing life-threatening complications from the flu, such as severe pneumonia, preterm labour, or severe respiratory distress, Julio says.
The flu shot protects the baby, too
Some women are hesitant to receive the vaccine because they’re unsure how it will affect the foetus, yet the evidence is clear that the flu shot is safe during pregnancy and does not cause birth defects or other complications with foetus development.
Doctors strongly recommend getting the flu shot while pregnant because it’s critical to protecting the baby once the baby is born. That’s because when a woman gets the vaccine while pregnant, she passes her flu-fighting antibodies to the baby through her placenta.
This is important because newborns are too young to be vaccinated and have to wait until they’re 6 months old. That means in the first six months after birth, a baby’s only protection against the flu is the antibodies gained from mum while still in the womb.
Which flu vaccine to get while pregnant
Pregnant women should receive the inactivated influenza vaccine, which is delivered by injection. They should avoid the nasal spray vaccine because the spray contains a live virus, which could cross the placenta and cause an infection in the foetus.
Side effects of the flu shot are the same for pregnant women as they are for anyone else, Riley says. They include soreness at the injection site, fatigue, and headache that can last for up to two days after receiving the vaccine.
Though rare, flu shots can cause allergic reactions, and a pregnant woman shouldn’t receive a flu shot if she is severely allergic to a component of the vaccine, like an allergy to eggs.
Generally, people with egg allergies can get the flu vaccine, even if they are pregnant. However, for those with a severe egg allergy, the CDC recommends that the vaccine is given in a medical setting, such as an allergist’s office.
And if there’s still some concern, consult a doctor about whether you might be eligible to receive another form of the vaccine.
What to do if you still get the flu while pregnant
Getting a flu shot helps lower your risk of contracting the flu, but it isn’t a guarantee that you won’t catch it. If you’re pregnant and you do get the flu, don’t panic, Riley says. Contact your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms and get an antiviral agent to treat the flu.
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