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Why All Pregnant Women Should Get a Flu Shot

It’s that time of year again we all dread — flu season.

Up to 20 percent of Americans will get the flu this year, and the illness will lead to about 200,000 hospital stays. The flu is serious, but some people think of it as just a more aggressive version of the common cold.

It isn’t.

It can lead to severe illness, especially in pregnant women. According to the CDC, pregnant women who get the flu are at risk for serious complications, such as premature birth and preterm labor. If you are pregnant, you MUST get a flu shot. The vaccination is safe for women and their unborn child, so there’s no excuse not to do it.

Getting the Flu Vaccine

Pregnant women, children under five years old and the elderly are at high risk of experiencing complications if they get the flu.

Because pregnant women are especially vulnerable during flu season, we recommend that they and women who are breastfeeding get the flu vaccine every year. Fortunately, there’s no time limit to do this; a woman can get the vaccine anytime during her pregnancy.

I often hear patients say that they don’t want to get the vaccine because it could harm their baby. The flu shot cannot make you sick because it contains a form of the flu virus that isn’t active. However, pregnant women should not get the nasal spray vaccine, because it is made from a live virus.

The vaccine causes the immune system to build up antibodies that destroy the virus and protect the body from infection. We administer the flu vaccine every year because a different strain of the virus emerges every flu season. The vaccine’s effectiveness can vary depending on the age and health of the person who receives it and the match between the type of flu spreading throughout the community and the type of vaccine people receive. It’s important to understand that getting the vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the flu. However, it can reduce your risk and make the flu milder if you do get sick.

If You Get the Flu

Flu season typically lasts from October to March. If you experience symptoms such as fever, headache, sore throat, coughing, muscle aches and fatigue, you should contact your doctor immediately — even if you’ve received the vaccine.

If you do become ill, getting on antiviral medication within 48 hours of contracting the flu can reduce your risk of complications and protect the health of you and your unborn child. Antiviral medication can reduce the severity of your illness and the amount of time you have the flu, so don’t hesitate to see your OB even if you think it’s just a severe cold.

Getting the flu shot is critical — not just for your health, but also for your child’s. Children under six months cannot get the flu vaccine. However, if you get the shot while pregnant, you’ll pass along these antibodies to your child, reducing your baby’s risk of getting the flu when he or she is most vulnerable to illness. The flu shot is safe and effective, so take the time to get the vaccine before flu season gets even worse.