Flu shot protects pregnant woman and baby from deadly virus

By: Heather Spies, MD .

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I’m a real strong advocate for getting the flu shot when a woman is pregnant because it protects both her and her baby, and the risks of not getting vaccinated far outweigh any downside.

When they’re initially presented with the option, some women decline for one reason or another, so I want to explain the reasons to seriously consider it because there’s a lot of misinformation out there.

The flu vaccine protects the woman.

Pregnant women undergo a lot of changes in their heart, lungs and immune system that make them more susceptible to getting sick. It’s not that they lack an immune system. It just changes during pregnancy.

During those nine months, women tend to be more susceptible to viruses or bacteria that may cause common colds or pneumonia. Those ailments can spiral into more serious problems that could require hospitalization, an intensive care stay or even death. Besides the obvious health impacts on the mom, it also puts the baby at risk.

The flu vaccine won’t hurt the baby.

Many concerns about the flu shot’s impact on an unborn baby are simply not true. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently put out a statement reassuring providers and patients that the shot is safe, calling it an essential part of prenatal care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also affirmed that the flu shot is safe in any trimester.

What it comes down to is the risks of not getting the shot are so much higher than any potential risk of getting it. The vaccine has not been shown to cause miscarriage. There was a recent publication that was reporting a safety concern with the flu vaccine in the first trimester, but when you actually look at the study there was no causation.

The vaccine protects the baby when he or she is born.

Infants can’t be vaccinated until they’re at least 6 months old. If a woman gets the flu vaccine while she’s pregnant, some of that protection passes to the fetus, and then that baby gets some protection through flu season.┬áIf a newborn gets influenza and contracts pneumonia, it can have serious short- and long-term consequences.

The shot won’t make you sick.

Women often tell me that when they’ve gotten the shot in the past that it made them sick or they had side effects. I always ask what kind of sickness they encountered after the shot because nausea or vomiting is different than a respiratory ailment.

The vaccine doesn’t make people sick to their stomach, so they likely acquired some type of virus at the same time and it probably wasn’t even linked. Sometimes people confuse stomach flu with respiratory influenza, but they’re totally different.

If a pregnant woman knows someone has been diagnosed with influenza, they should take precautions and stay away from them, if that’s an option. Otherwise, frequent hand washing and using wipes at the grocery store will help.

The bottom line.

The flu is too serious of a disease to take lightly, so moms-to-be should not rely on rumor or sites that lack credibility when they’re deciding whether to get a flu shot. Check the source. Many times when a study is done, one finding will be pulled from it for the news, but not all of the scientific information is shared. And, unfortunately, patients make the decision that’s not the best.

We see every year that some healthy young person has died from influenza and we’re working toward that not happening by having people get vaccinated. And while no vaccine gives a person 100 percent coverage, it’s worth the potential benefit.