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Should You Get a Flu Shot During Pregnancy?

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Updated September 13, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Should You Get a Flu Shot During Pregnancy?

Pregnant women often have questions about what they should and should not put in their bodies, with flu shots during pregnancy a major concern. So many medications are off limits when you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it's hard to know what is okay and what is not. This is true when it comes to vaccines as well. Some vaccines are OK to get during pregnancy and some are not.

So what about the flu shot? Is it OK to get a flu shot during pregnancy or while you are breastfeeding?

Answer:

Pregnant women are considered to be at high risk for the flu and should definitely have a flu shot. When you are pregnant, you are more susceptible to getting colds and the flu and the flu shot will help protect both you and your baby. A study published in October 2008 showed that babies who were born to women who had the flu shot while they were pregnant were 63% less likely to get the flu or other illnesses that cause fever than those born to mothers who did not get the vaccine. In addition, studies have shown that getting the flu shot during your pregnancy can provide protection to the baby for up to six months after birth.

While many people may not be concerned about getting the flu as an adult, it can be serious and even life threatening for an infant. Since babies under 6 months old cannot get a flu shot, getting yours while you are pregnant is the best way to protect your baby.

The flu shot is safe during pregnancy, but pregnant women should not get the FluMist Intranasal Flu Vaccine. The newer Fluzone Intradermal Flu Vaccine has not been tested in pregnant women, so it's safety has not been established. If you have questions about getting the Fluzone Intradermal Flu Vaccine while you are pregnant, it is best to talk to your health care provider about the risks and benefits to you and your unborn baby.

Getting the Flu During Pregnancy

Understandably, many women are still concerned about getting vaccines while they are pregnant. I am often asked what the risk is to the baby if mom gets the flu while she is pregnant. There are actually several concerns if a woman gets the flu while she is pregnant.

  • Difficulty breathing due to congestion:
    Depending on the severity of the symptoms, this can actually lead to decreased amounts of oxygen to both mother and baby.
  • Risks of secondary infections:
    One of the biggest concerns for anyone who gets the flu is developing a more serious secondary infection. Pneumonia is one of the most common complications of the flu, and when combined with the flu is the 8th leading cause of death in the United States. Pregnant women are more likely to develop serious complications from the flu than other adults.

If you start to experience flu symptoms during your pregnancy, be sure to contact your health care provider right away. You may need an antiviral medication to help reduce the risk of developing complications from the flu. You will also want to check with your health care provider to determine which over the counter cold and flu medications are appropriate for you.

Pregnancy is a unique and amazing time for a woman. You want to make the right choices for yourself and your unborn child. You should always talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you are making the right decision for you and your baby.

Sources:

K. Zaman, M.B., B.S., Ph.D. et al. "Effectiveness of Maternal Influenza Immunization in Mothers and Infants." The New England Journal of Medicine. Volume 359:1555-1564. 9 Oct 08. Number 15. 27 Oct 08.

"Flu Symptoms & Severity." Seasonal Flu 06 Dec 07. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 29 Oct 08.

"271/371 Fluzone 372 Fluzone High-Dose 390 Fluzone Intradermal." Sanofi Pasteur 25 May 11. 09 Sep 11.

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