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Is it safe to get the flu shot when you're pregnant?

April 30, 2014

Answered by Dr. Jessica Vaught, Director of Women's Services, Advanced Gynecologic Surgery and Pelvic Medicine, Winnie Palmer Hospital

The answer is yes. Actually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a flu shot for anyone who is pregnant during flu season (October through March).

Pregnancy puts extra stress on your heart and lungs, and can also affect your immune systems, all factors that can increase your risk of getting the flu. Having the flu during pregnancy can increase risk of miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight.

Getting a flu shot during pregnancy also protects your baby after birth. Infants are at high risk of complications from the flu, but childhood flu vaccines can’t start until a baby is at least six months old. However, the antibodies you develop by getting a flu shot during pregnancy will pass through the placenta to help protect your baby after birth.

In a 2011 study, babies whose mothers had a flu shot during pregnancy were almost 50 percent less likely to get the flu during their first flu season than were babies whose mothers didn’t have a flu shot during pregnancy.

If you decide to get the flu shot during your pregnancy, request the shot instead of the nasal spray. The shot is made from an inactivated virus, making it safe for both mom and baby during every stage of pregnancy. The spray contains a live virus, so it isn’t appropriate while your pregnant or trying to conceive.

Make sure you check with your doctor if you’re allergic to eggs; you might need to take special precautions to avoid a reaction. Also, if you have had a serious reaction to a previous flu vaccine, getting a flu shot is not recommended, but check with your doctor because some reactions may not be related to the vaccine.

The flu shot provides protection over both H1N1 (swine flu) and the seasonal flu.