Getting the flu vaccine can seem like a tough decision during pregnancy.
With all the disinformation on social media, it can be hard to tell if you’re protecting your baby or putting her in harm’s way.
As you probably know, experts say you should get the flu vaccine during pregnancy. And there’s a lot of science to back up that recommendation.
In this post, we’re sharing 7 reasons why you should get a vaccine to protect yourself and your baby.
What is the Flu Vaccine?
The flu vaccine is a shot to reduce your chances of getting the seasonal flu. You can typically get one at your doctor’s office or in some pharmacies.
The goal of the shot is to make your immune system react, making you immune to flu virus, without getting infected. To do this, the vaccine is made from a weakened or inactive flu virus. Contrary to what some people think, the vaccine does not give you the flu. Rather, it makes you develop antibodies that fight similar viruses.
The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months old gets the flu vaccine yearly.
7 Reasons to Get the Flu Shot During Pregnancy
The benefits of getting the flu vaccine surround its ability to protect you, your baby and those around you. However, it’s worth noting that how effective the flu vaccine is varies by year. That’s because the flu mutates each year and scientists have to predict those changes so they can develop a shot against it. So, the flu and vaccine each year are slightly different from the last. As a result, a vaccine one year may be more or less effective.
#1 The Flu Vaccine Is Well-Tested on Pregnant Women
The first objection to taking the flu vaccine is that it hasn’t been proven safe.
Some people think it hasn’t been studied well or wide enough. Despite that popular belief, there’s evidence to the contrary. A 2009 study found that the H1N1 virus in the mother increased the risk of fetal death. Taking an influenza vaccine reduced the risk of mothers getting the virus, which, in turn, can make it less likely their babies would die from it. The study also found the vaccine was not associated with increased fetal death.
A 2012 paper reviewed nearly 40 years of data about pregnant women and the flu vaccine. The researchers didn’t find a connection between vaccination and adverse fetal outcomes, such as birth defects or death. A 2017 study on more than 400,000 volunteers found that babies born to mothers who got the vaccine didn’t have an increased rate of major birth defects.
More evidence: A 2015 and 2018 review of research concluded that although the effectiveness of the vaccine wasn’t clear, the shot wasn’t associated with adverse reactions like miscarriage or preterm labor.
#2 Prevent Your (Raised Risk) of Flu Complications
Compared to women who aren’t pregnant, those expecting are more likely to experience severe flu symptoms, including ones that require hospitalization.
This may sound like an over-exaggeration since you’ve probably had the flu plenty of times without an issue. However, during pregnancy, you go through many changes, which can include the immune system. This can make it more difficult for your body to fight viruses off, meaning it can become more severe.
A 2014 study on pregnant women found that the flu vaccine cut their chances of getting an acute respiratory infection in half. A 2018 study found that the vaccine provided “moderate” protection and may decrease a pregnant woman’s hospitalization chances by 40%.
#3 Prevent Maternal Complications
Some people don’t get the flu vaccine for fear of maternal complications. But the vaccine can actually prevent against maternal complications that a severe flu can cause.
Many studies show that a severe case of the flu can lead to maternal complications. One possible reason is because of the flu’s side effects. For example, fever is a common symptom of the flu and has been shown in some studies to increase the risk of miscarriage and birth defects. Given this information, protecting yourself from the flu could also protect your baby.
Other research supports this too. A 2016 study on over 5,000 pregnant women found that mothers who got a vaccine were significantly less likely to experience stillbirth when compared to unvaccinated mothers.
A study looking at 8,000 births in the state of Georgia found that the flu vaccine was significantly associated with lower odds of preterm birth and small for gestational age. Echoing those findings, a 2014 study of over 12,000 women found that moms who were vaccinated had a lower risk of low birth weight and preterm birth.
In summary, getting the vaccine may protect your baby against complications a flu can cause.
#4 “Pre-Vaccinate” Your Baby
Getting a flu vaccination during pregnancy is a way to “pre-vaccinate” your baby and protect them for the first few months.
Like pregnant women, babies are also at an increased risk of severe flu complications. These may include brain problems, pneumonia, infections and death.
For this reason, the CDC recommends vaccinating babies, but they can’t get their first shot until 6 months. One way to protect them before that mark is to get the flu shot yourself. The antibodies you develop from the shot pass through the placenta, giving your baby those benefits too.
#5 May Protect Your Baby From Mental Health Disorders
Getting the vaccine may also protect your baby in ways you may not think of. One study found that a gestational exposure to the flu increased the chances of a child developing bipolar disorder by 4 times. That risk may be even higher if the flu occurred during the second or third trimesters.
Before this study, researchers were beginning to uncover a possible connection between influenza and mental health disorders, like schizophrenia. A 2020 paper concluded that flu viruses have multiple effects on prenatal and postnatal processes. When these processes are disrupted by a flu virus, the authors say it “could result in increased risk of the development of schizophrenia or acute psychoses in adulthood.”
Some groups also claim that vaccines heighten the risk of a child developing autism. This has been debunked and interestingly, evidence may show the opposite. Autism has been linked to viral infections in the first trimester.
These findings aren’t conclusive; more research needs to be done to understand why they may be connected. However, if the vaccine prevents you from getting the flu, it could protect your fetus—possibly making it less likely they’ll develop disorders connected to viruses, like bipolar disorder.
#6 May Lessen Need for COVID-19 Tests
With COVID-19, there is an increased importance to get vaccinated.
To be clear, the flu vaccine does NOT protect you against COVID-19. However, it can lessen your need to get a COVID-19 test if it prevents you from getting symptoms from the standard flu.
Since the flu and novel coronavirus share many of the same symptoms, the only way to tell the difference may be to get a lab test. If you’re vaccinated against the flu, you’re less likely to get it—meaning you’re also less likely to get COVID19-like symptoms and need to take a test. Not getting the flu means you can’t transmit it, making it less likely those around you will get symptoms and need a test too.
So, a shot this year could save you from standing in long testing lines just to discover your symptoms were only the flu and not COVID-19.
With that being said, although the vaccine decreases your chances, it’s still possible you may get the flu. Any symptoms should be reported to your doctor so they can assess the next steps.
#7 Reduces Burden on Healthcare System
The flu season burdens our healthcare system by sending more people (particularly vulnerable populations) into the hospital. This year, with COVID-19, even more people are getting sick, meaning some hospitals are more full and less able to take care of patients.
When hospitals are full, it affects more than just flu patients. Some may need to postpone surgeries, procedures and appointments, leading to worse health for others. A simple way we can all work to unburden the healthcare system is to get the flu vaccine. That’s because vaccines make it less likely you’ll get sick and, if you do, less likely you’ll end up in the hospital. That means our prevention steps help others get the care they need.
Since you can get the flu even if you’re vaccinated, you should still practice good hygiene to ward off germs. For more information on that, read 9 Tips to Prevent Your Baby from Getting the Flu.
To prepare for flu season, some essentials may be helpful:
- Snotty Buddy.This device clears your child’s nose of snot without the fuss. Simply insert one end into their nose and the side with a barrier into your mouth. Like a straw, “suck” the mucus out and clean it for next use.
- Non-Contact Smartphone Thermometer.Wondering if anyone in the home is sick? Use this thermometer to take their temperature without touching them. See the results easily on your phone so you can share with doctor, if needed.