Pregnancy and the Flu Shot: What You Need to Know

During pregnancy, a woman shares everything with her baby: food, body products, and medicine including vaccinations. When the woman receives a vaccination, she is protecting both herself and her baby. While some vaccines must be given at specific times during a pregnancy, a woman can receive the flu shot at any time.

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Vaccinations and Pregnancy: Is it safe?

Vaccinations during pregnancy are entirely safe. Receiving vaccinations during pregnancy protects both the mother and child. For a woman seeking to become pregnant, it is recommended that all vaccinations be up to date. Not only will this ensure the woman is healthy going into the pregnancy, but it will also prevent serious diseases and complications that could prove deadly for the child.  Standard vaccines include whooping cough, hepatitis B, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), the flu, and any additional vaccines related to family history or work environment. Depending on the destination, travel-related vaccines may be recommended as well.

Why are flu shots recommended?

Appearing most frequently the winter, influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can have serious complications (particularly to the young, elderly, or those with compromised immune systems). The influenza virus is constantly evolving, and new vaccinations are produced annually to combat the virus. Symptoms include a sore throat, coughing, congestion, body aches, fatigue, and a high fever. Because the flu is a virus and not a bacteria, only the symptoms are treatable. If not prevented or treated, the flu can rapidly become worse and develop into pneumonia.

The flu vaccine allows for the creation of antibodies, which are essential in fighting the virus. Because infants under 6 months cannot receive the flu vaccine, it is all the more important for the mother to become vaccinate pre-pregnancy or during pregnancy. The earlier the woman can receive the flu shot, the better. The flu vaccine can be given at any time before, during, or post pregnancy. Breastfeeding woman can also receive the flu vaccination.

How is the vaccination given?

The most common method of vaccination is through a shot. There is a nasal spray method, however, this is not recommended for pregnant women. For women concerned about trace amounts of thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative), there is a single-dose thimerosal-free option available. For women with a severe egg allergy, it is necessary for the vaccination to be given in a medical setting that can tolerate severe allergic reactions.

Are vaccinations the only way to prevent the flu?

Vaccinations are ideal; however, they are not the only method of preventing the flu. Other highly effective methods include

  • Avoiding close contact
  • Staying home when sick
  • Washing hands or using hand sanitizer
  • Covering both the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoiding touching the face
  • Disinfecting the house, work, school, or transportation areas
  • Staying hydrated
  • Getting plenty of sleep

Antibodies and the flu vaccine

If the mother receives the flu vaccine pre-pregnancy, the baby will be born with the flu antibodies already in its system. If the mother receives the flu vaccine during the pregnancy, the baby will be born with some but not all antibodies. If the mother breastfeeds and receives the flu vaccine post-pregnancy, the baby will receive only the antibodies that are able to pass via the breast milk. It takes approximately 2 weeks for an individual to create the antibodies post-vaccination.

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