The Crucial Reason Why Pregnant People Should *Always* Get The Flu Shot

·5 min read
Photo credit: BSIP - Getty Images
Photo credit: BSIP - Getty Images

If you’ve been online lately, you know there's an overload of info on vaccines and immunity—and how they affect pregnancy. And one big question that pops up around flu season is: Can you get the flu vaccine during pregnancy?

The CDC recommends that every single person six months and older get the influenza vaccine every single year (barring those who are allergic to the flu shot itself, of course). But here's the thing: What if you're pregnant? Children under six months shouldn't get a flu shot, per the CDC. So what about a growing fetus?

“Any trimester during flu season is okay for the flu shot,” explains Neha Pathak, MD, DipABLM, a board-certified internal medicine and lifestyle medicine physician and medical editor at WedMD. “I've been pregnant three times and have gotten the flu shot in all different trimesters. For my baby that was born in the fall-winter time period, it felt especially good to know I was protecting her with antibodies even before she was born,” Pathak explains.

Check out more information below, for your peace of mind, from trusted experts.

Spell it out for me me: Should I get the flu shot when I'm pregnant or not?

Short answer: The CDC says yes, please get your flu shot. If you're pregnant, you're safe to get the jab at any time. For one, it's for your health. In fact, due to changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy, you might actually be at greater risk of complications from the flu (including hospitalization), so it’s a good idea to get vaccinated so you can avoid that risk.

“It's important to recognize that getting the flu is more likely to cause severe sickness during pregnancy compared to people who are not pregnant,” Dr. Pathak says. “People who are pregnant (and up to two weeks postpartum) are at a higher risk for hospitalization from the flu. This impacts the parent's health, but also the health of the baby,” she notes.

How does getting a flu shot help protect your baby too?

By getting the flu vaccine, you also protect your baby as soon as it’s born, as the antibodies get passed in vitro, according to the CDC. That's really important since babies themselves aren't cleared for a flu shot until they're six months old.

In addition to this, fever is one of the most common symptoms of the flu—and in pregnant people, a high internal body temperature can lead to defects in an infant's neural tubes (the structure from which the brain and spinal cord form, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine), which could harm the baby, per the CDC. And while this outcome is very rare, it wouldn’t hurt if you exercised precaution.

In short, the flu shot decreases your risk of getting sick with the flu, and thus lowers your risk of high fevers that could impact your baby’s health, Pathak says.

What are the risks for parents who end up contracting the flu?

“It’s strongly recommended that people get the flu shot,” confirms Rachel Urrutia, MD, assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The flu can be more severe for pregnant people, compared to other times in a person’s life. The immune system is less strong, and the airways involved in breathing are more swollen, so this can make the flu more serious,” she says.

Then, there's the complications from the flu. “Pregnant people have a higher risk of getting pneumonia and being hospitalized,” Dr. Pathak adds. “The flu shot decreases the risk for hospitalization by 40 percent,” she says. And when the health of yourself and your baby is on the line? That 40 percent makes all the difference.

Okay, are there any extra precautions pregnant women should take?

Yep—the CDC, along with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), suggests getting the actual flu shot, not the nasal spray.

“The nasal spray contains a live virus,” says Dr. Urrutia. “We don’t recommend any vaccines with a live virus for pregnant people," she says. That's not necessarily because the spray will cause the flu, but because pregnant person's immune systems are already lowered, so the active virus could potentially cause a slight fever.

Keep in mind, however, that some people might still get a low-grade fever (below 100) and feel slightly tired or achey even after the shot, says Dr. Urrutia, and that’s normal. “Your body is creating an immune response to the vaccine,” she says. If your fever goes above 100, or you get other symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath, then get a medical appointment, ASAP.

But from there, the precautions pregnant people should take are just like the precautions anyone else should heed—which means not getting the flu shot if you're allergic to it or if you're ill with a fever (just wait 'til you feel better in that case).

In addition to the shot, pregnant people should take the typical precautions for sidestepping the flu. That includes your regular germ-avoiding tactics, like washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and staying away from other sick people, says Dr. Urrutia.

Are there any other important vaccinations pregnant people should get?

The most important vaccines to get during pregnancy are the flu shot, the COVID-19 vaccine, and the Tdap vaccine, which can prevent tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, Dr. Pathak says.

Here’s why: “COVID infection is dangerous for pregnant people and their unborn babies, so being vaccinated protects parent and baby,” says Pathak. “The Tdap vaccine is best to get during every pregnancy between 27 to 36 weeks. This helps protect the baby from whooping cough in the first few months after birth, when they are most at risk,” Dr. Pathak adds.

If you’re still confused about the flu vaccine as well as other immunizations with regard to your pregnancy, check with your doctor about what is best for you before making an appointment.

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