Flu and Pregnancy: How to Protect Baby on Board
Influenza, commonly known as “the flu,” is more frequently spread during cold, winter months. Flu can pose extra risks for pregnant women and their babies. Studies show that expecting mothers have a greater risk of severe flu than non-pregnant women of the same age group. In fact, pregnant women, young children, and elderly adults are all at increased risk of developing complications from flu, such as pneumonia, which can lead to hospitalization and even death. Why is the flu more dangerous for moms-to-be? When a woman is pregnant, her immune system, heart and lungs go through significant changes, which makes it harder to fight off infections like the flu. This increases the chances of needing hospitalization and respiratory support to recover from severe influenza. Women continue to be at increased risk for complications from flu for up to two weeks after their baby is born.
So how can expecting moms protect themselves and their little ones? One way is by getting a flu shot. According to the CDC, getting a flu shot during pregnancy can reduce an expecting mother’s risk of being hospitalized from flu by an average of 40 percent. Not only does the vaccine help shield expecting mothers from flu, but it also can pass on some protection to the baby after birth. When you get the flu shot, your body starts to make antibodies against the virus, which can be passed along to a baby through the placenta and through breastmilk after they are born. Newborns, especially in their first 6 months of life, are more prone to severe complications from flu. As their immune systems are still developing, catching the flu can be much more dangerous for tiny humans.
But is it safe to get a flu shot while pregnant? Absolutely! Decades of research has shown that the flu shot is safe for both mom and baby during any trimester. Doctors recommend that all pregnant women get vaccinated to protect themselves and their unborn children from the flu. Flu shots are generally offered annually at low or no cost between the months of September and March at most medical clinics, pharmacies, and even health departments.
What happens if you do get the flu while pregnant? The CDC recommends prescription antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, within the first two days of flu symptom onset in pregnant women. Antiviral medication can decrease symptoms and reduce the risk of severe complications from flu. If you are pregnant and you think you might have the flu, try to see a doctor as soon as possible to receive proper treatment, even if you already got your flu shot.
Remember, taking care of yourself means taking care of your little one, too! Speak to a healthcare professional about ways to protect you and your family against the flu virus this winter season.
Dr. Moore is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.