Should You Get the Flu Vaccine During Pregnancy?
It’s flu season—have you gotten sick yet?
If you’ve already had the flu vaccine, the answer is probably not. But for those who are contemplating whether to get the shot during pregnancy, this post is for you.
Although the sickness is already being passed around, flu season actually peaks between December and February. Since it can last until May, there’s still time and reason to get vaccinated.
In this post, we’ll go over what the flu shot is, if it’s safe during pregnancy, its benefits and the concerns some people have.
What is the Flu Shot?
Similar to other vaccines, flu shots are given with a needle.
The vaccine is either made with a flu virus that has been killed or with one gene from the virus so that your immune system reacts without getting an infection. There is also a nasal spray vaccine that contains a weakened virus.
Some people think this means that the shot gives you the flu; however, that’s untrue. The shot only contains a weakened or inactive virus that can only cause an infection at cooler temperatures in the nose. It can’t infect the lungs or anywhere in the body with warmer temperatures. When you get a flu shot, it makes your body develop antibodies. These antibodies help you fight the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone above 6 months old get a flu vaccine every year. This is because your immune protection from the shot declines with time, so updating your shot can provide the best protection.
But why is the flu vaccine recommended anyway?
You’ve had the flu before and it’s likely that nothing serious happened. However, sometimes influenza can lead to hospitalization or death. To help prevent you from getting the flu and the compilations it can cause, a vaccine is recommended. Here are the benefits:
- It can prevent you from getting sick. The CDC estimates that the shot prevented 5.3 million illnesses between 2016 and 2017.
- It can prevent you from being hospitalized if you do get sick. The CDC says that the vaccine prevented an estimated 85,000 flu-related hospitalizations from 2016-2017.
- It can be more important for people who are at-risk for flu compilations. This includes children under 5, adults over 65, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions such as asthma, kidney or liver disorders, or blood disorders.
Is Getting a Flu Shot Safe for Pregnant Women?
According to the CDC, the flu shot (NOT the nasal spray) is not only safe for pregnant women but is recommended.
Note: Unlike the shot, the nasal spray is made with a live virus and isn’t safe during pregnancy.
Compared to women of the same age, women who are pregnant are more likely to suffer from a severe illness as a result of the flu. During pregnancy, your immune system, heart and lungs can change, making you more susceptible to illness.
Many mothers-to-be experience the flu and their babies are unharmed. However, if you have severe symptoms, it can pose a risk. For example, the flu can cause a fever, which may be associated with problems such as neural tube defects. There is some evidence to suggest that having the flu within the first weeks of pregnancy may be associated with some birth defects.
In addition, infants are also at an increased risk of severe flu. Vaccinating yourself will allow you to pass on the benefits.
Many people wonder about the flu shot and whether it can affect the baby. Studies show that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women; however, many of these studies are completed during the first trimester. Still, the CDC recommends getting your shot during any trimester. Since flu shots were first introduced, they’ve been given to millions of pregnant women safely.
A large 2013 study showed that pregnant women didn’t have an increased risk for pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension or chorioamnionitis after getting the vaccine. Another study divided pregnant women into 2 groups: those who received the flu shot and those who didn’t. There were no differences in the rates of premature delivery. A large 2017 study showed that babies born from mothers who had the shot didn’t have an increased risk of major birth defects.
Flu Shot Benefits for Pregnant Women
Along with the general benefits listed above, there are additional reasons why getting vaccinated can be a good idea for pregnant women.
- It can reduce the risk of getting an acute respiratory infection that’s associated with the flu. According to one study, it cuts your risk in half.
- It can dramatically decrease your chances of being hospitalized from the flu. A 2018 study showed that the shot provided moderate protection and decreased a woman’s risk of hospitalization during pregnancy by 40%.
- Interesting, the shot may also protect your baby when you pass those antibodies on. Several studies have shown that it can help prevent a flu infection for the first couple months of your baby’s life. Since your baby isn’t old enough to be vaccinated until 6 months, this can be a way to “pre-vaccinate” her.
The CDC recommends that people get the vaccine before flu season starts—ideally at the end of October. If you haven’t already had yours and you plan to, you still should. Being vaccinated later, even into January, can be beneficial. It takes about 2 weeks after the shot for your body to be protected.
The flu shot can’t give you the flu, but it can give you some side effects that mimic the flu. However, they are mild and short-lasting. Flu shot side effects may include a low fever or aches.
Flu Shot and Pregnancy Controversy and Cons
Although the CDC recommends the flu vaccine, some people still have concerns about it.
- You can still get sick. Although getting a flu vaccination helps to prevent the flu, it’s not a guarantee. Anyone who gets the shot can still get the flu. Because of this, you should also practice other prevention methods. This includes avoiding close physical contact with others, frequently washing your hands, disinfecting surfaces and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Effectiveness varies. Some people wonder about how effective the shot is at preventing the flu. The truth is that there’s no easy answer. Flu vaccines are updated each season according to the predicted viruses. However, since viruses vary each season, so can the shot’s effectiveness.
- Extreme side effects. Most people who get the flu vaccine have no problems. However, in rare cases, it can cause a severe allergic reaction. People with egg allergies should be vaccinated in a medical setting where reactions can be treated if they occur. Another rare reaction is called Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), which is a neurological disorder. However, the CDC says that if there is an increased risk of GBS after a flu vaccination, it’s small—around 1-2 per million shots. Other than that, the side effects (such as fever and aches) are mild and go away quickly. When compared to the symptoms of the actual flu, the side effects from the vaccination are significantly fewer.
- The number of pregnancy and flu-related hospitalizations is unclear. Some people argue that the risks of getting the flu during pregnancy aren’t that high to warrant every mother getting the flu shot. The CDC does not know how many people die from the flu each year because it’s hard to track and attribute directly to the virus. Although estimations vary, according to a 2014 study, influenza-related hospitalization affected 1.8 per 10,000 women. You can read more about this argument here.
- Miscarriage worries. Several studies show that flu shots don’t heighten the risk for miscarriage. However, one study showed that women early in their pregnancy who had two yearly flu shots during 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 had an increased risk of miscarriage in the 28 days following the second vaccination. Since flu vaccines change, the miscarriages could relate only to that specific vaccine used in that season. The CDC is still investigating this occurrence and recommends the vaccine in the meantime, saying that the flu itself also poses a great risk to pregnant women. Although it’s unclear why the miscarriages happened, most medical professionals say that the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
Should You Get the Flu Vaccine During Pregnancy?
Now that you’ve read the pros and cons of getting a flu vaccine, you may be wondering if you should get it. The CDC recommends it and says that it’s safe anytime during pregnancy. Since this post is not a substitute for medical advice, you should talk with your doctor about any concerns you have.
Have you had the flu vaccine during pregnancy? If so, comment below on your experience. If you have any pregnant friends, share this post with them, too!
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