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Should pregnant women get a flu shot?

November 07, 2018

Flu season is creeping up on us again, and you may have seen and heard a lot of encouragement to get your flu shot. Flu shots are available now not only at your doctor’s office but at just about every neighborhood pharmacy, and some workplaces even provide them as well. You can’t really miss it.

Amidst all of the talk about the flu, one question I hear every year is from pregnant women wondering whether they’re supposed to get the flu shot. Some women even assume that they shouldn’t get the flu shot because they are so used to their doctors and pharmacists telling them not to take certain medications while pregnant.

Is the flu shot safe for pregnant women?

When we talk about the safety of medications in pregnant women, we’re actually considering two separate things: safety for the mom and safety for the baby. Many times, medications that women take routinely before or after pregnancy cannot be recommended during pregnancy because we just don’t have enough scientific data to show that the medication is safe for the baby.

However, the flu vaccine is different. The flu vaccine has been given to millions of pregnant women over the course of many years. We have a significant amount of scientific evidence to show that the flu vaccine is safe for both mother and baby.

Is the flu shot recommended for pregnant women?

We know that the flu vaccine is safe for both mother and baby, and furthermore, we know that the flu is not.

Changes in a woman’s immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy make a pregnant woman especially susceptible to serious illness if she were to get the flu; complications, hospitalization and even death can occur. The flu can also increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications such as premature labor and delivery.

However, getting a flu shot during any trimester of the pregnancy can protect both mother and baby from serious illness. In fact, when an expectant mother gets a flu shot, she passes on antibodies to the baby that can protect her child for six months after birth.

Getting a flu shot during pregnancy is strongly encouraged, both for the health of mother and baby.

Other things to consider

Common side effects of the flu vaccine given during pregnancy are the same as one would expect in those who are not pregnant: arm soreness from the injection, headache, fever, muscle aches, nausea.

The flu vaccine can be given during any trimester of the pregnancy, preferably early on in the flu season (usually around October).

Pregnant women should not receive the inhaled flu vaccine (although studies have shown no pregnancy complications even when mother received the inhaled formulation).

Anyone who has a severe, life-threatening allergy to any component of the vaccine formulation should not receive the vaccine.

If you have a severe allergy to eggs, talk to your doctor about whether you should receive the flu vaccine. While many people with egg allergies can safely receive the flu vaccine, extra precautions are often needed.

Breastfeeding mothers are also encouraged to get the flu vaccine, especially since their newborn will not be able to get the flu vaccine until six months of age. By receiving the flu vaccine while nursing, mothers have the opportunity to provide added protection for their infant in the first months of life when their baby is most vulnerable.

For more information on the flu vaccine and current recommendations for pregnant women, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).