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Getting your flu shot during pregnancy

The flu is a serious illness during pregnancy, but getting your flu shot can reduce your risk and severity.

October 7, 2020

Pregnant woman flu shot

Getting the flu can cause serious problems when you are pregnant, and even a generally healthy mom can experience issues. Changes in immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make expectant mothers more likely to get severely ill from the flu. Rochester Regional Health OBGYN Amy Hennessy, MD says everyone should get the flu shot as soon as they can, and she encourages all her expectant patients to get the vaccine. “In pregnancy, a woman's immune system is weakened which can make her more susceptible to illness. The flu shot protects mothers and newborns—which is increasingly important in these times.”  

Dr. Hennessy answers a few of the most common questions about getting your flu shot during pregnancy.

How does the flu vaccine protect you and your baby?

When you get your flu shot, your body starts to make antibodies that help protect you against the flu. Antibodies also can be passed on to your developing baby and help protect them for several months after birth. This is important because babies younger than six months of age are too young to get their own flu vaccine, so they rely on your flu shot to protect them.

“I encourage everyone in the household where a pregnant mother and newborn live to also get a flu shot,” said Dr. Hennessy. “Keeping pregnant women and newborns safe and healthy is of the utmost importance."

If you breastfeed your infant, antibodies can be passed through breast milk. It takes about two weeks for your body to make antibodies after getting a flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor or nurse about getting vaccinated by mid-October.

Is the flu shot safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women and their infants?

The flu shot is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women and their children. Flu shots have a positive safety record and evidence shows that flu vaccines can be given safely during pregnancy. Expectant mothers can get a flu shot at any time during any trimester, and it is encouraged that you ask your doctor about getting a flu shot during pregnancy.

If you deliver your baby before getting your flu shot, you still need to get vaccinated. The flu is spread from person to person. You, or others who care for your baby, may get the flu and spread it to your baby.

It is important that everyone who cares for your baby get a flu vaccine, including other household members, relatives, and babysitters.

What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?

After getting your flu shot, some people experience mild side effects. The most common side effects include soreness, tenderness, redness and/or swelling where the shot was given. Some people experience a headache, muscle aches, fever, and nausea, or feel tired.

If you have flu symptoms, what should you do?

If you experience flu symptoms (fever, cough, body aches headache, etc.), even if you have already received a flu shot, call your doctor, nurse, or clinic right away. Doctors can prescribe influenza antiviral medicine to treat flu. Antiviral drugs can shorten your illness, make it milder and lessen the chance of developing serious complications.

Because pregnant women are at high risk of serious flu complications, the CDC recommends that they be treated quickly with antiviral drugs if they get flu symptoms.

Oral Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is the preferred treatment for pregnant women because it has the most studies available to suggest that it is safe and beneficial. These medicines work best when started early.

Fever is often a symptom of flu. Having a fever early in pregnancy increases the chances of having a baby with birth defects or other problems. Tylenol (acetaminophen) can reduce a fever, and can be taken safely in limited amounts during pregnancy, but you should still call your doctor or nurse and tell them about your illness.

If you have any of the following signs or symptoms, call 911 and seek emergency medical care right away:

  • Problems breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness or confusion
  • Severe or constant vomiting
  • Decreased or no movement of your baby
  • High fever that is not responding to Tylenol® or another acetaminophen 

If you are pregnant and have questions about getting your flu shot, call your provider.

Find a Women’s Health provider near you

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