Learning that you are pregnant can simultaneously be the most exciting news in the world — and the most anxiety-inducing. What can I eat? What can I drink? When do I tell my boss? What happens if I get sick? That last question especially can be a very important one, especially if you get the flu while pregnant. So, whether two months pregnant, six months pregnant, or about to give birth, should you get the flu shot? The short answer is — YES! For the longer answer, we’ll walk you through more details below.
Why do I need one every year?
Multiple strains of the influenza virus circulate around the world each year, and so each year different strains will be more prominent. This means that the influenza vaccine must also be seasonal. It is updated each year based on which strains are the most likely to infect the population.
So, unfortunately, instead of getting a one-time shot to give you immunity for life, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that every person six months and older get a flu shot each year. This is especially important when you are pregnant because with pregnancy comes changes in your immune system, heart, and lungs.
Without the flu shot, if you were to get the flu, you could experience more complications than the average person, which is more dangerous to both you and your baby. One of the most common symptoms of the flu is a fever, which can cause neural tube defects in unborn babies. By getting a flu shot, you are less likely to contract the illness, and even if you do, your symptoms would typically be less severe, which is safer for you and baby as well.
But is it safe for the baby? What about miscarriage?
The CDC says that millions of women have been given a flu shot over several years with a good safety record. If you are worried about miscarriage, many studies have shown that women who get the flu while pregnant have not had a higher risk for spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. The CDC continues to collect data on this to stay alert in case anything changes. Some common side effects include soreness at the shot site, headache, muscle aches, nausea, or fatigue. Many side effects are often pregnancy symptoms as well so it can be difficult to know exactly which side effect is responsible for you feeling crummy.
Are there any special precautions I should take?
Anyone allergic to eggs or other vaccine ingredients should talk to their doctor about what is included in the shot to ensure they don’t have a reaction. A second precaution to note is that pregnant women are advised to get an actual flu shot, and not the nasal spray. The nasal spray version, though less invasive than a shot, contains a live virus, which is more likely to cause a fever.
Also, remember that the flu shot isn’t perfect. Though it is currently our best defense against the flu, other important practices like washing your hands often, not sharing drinks, and keeping your distance from others who are sick will help keep you healthy.
If you are the kind of person who wants to take a closer look at the data, the CDC lists several large, recent studies here that can provide more details on any risks or linkages between pregnant women and the influenza vaccine.
If you still have more questions about high-risk pregnancy or getting the flu while pregnant, talk with your doctor. Patients can ask their Ob/GYNS about teaming up with our Arizona perinatal specialists at Valley Perinatal Services, while physicians can contact us online or call (480) 756-6000.