Pregnant moms are often overlooked as needing flu shots. Afterall, so many other things are restricted during pregnancy, including certain medications and foods, why would be a flu shot be okay?
But pregnant women are considered to be a high risk group and it is recommended that they get a flu shot during flu season, which is usually begins around November or December and continues through March and April in the United States.
While it used to be recommended that you should wait until you were past your first trimester to get your flu shot, it is now thought that you can get the flu vaccine during any trimester.
And since they are in a high risk group, pregnant moms should get their flu shot during October or November.
Why should you get a flu shot?
The main reason is that you don't want to get the flu while you are pregnant, since it will put you at higher risk of flu complications, both for yourself and your baby.
Also, having a flu shot will decrease the chances your new baby will get sick once he or she is born. Afterall, without a flu shot, you can get sick with the flu and then pass the infection to your new baby.
It will also be hard to care for your baby if you get sick with the flu, which can cause fever, muscle aches, headache, severe malaise, nonproductive cough, sore throat, and runny nose, with some symptoms lingering for over two weeks.
For this reason, you should also consider getting a flu shot for other household contacts of yourself and your new baby. Remember that anyone over 6 months of age can get a flu shot each year.
Getting a flu shot during pregnancy can also help keep your baby healthy by transfering influenza vaccine-specific antibodies to them, which can last for 'for at least 2 months.'1 These antibodies should be able to help your new baby from getting the flu.
Is the flu serious?
Yes. According to the CDC, 'it is estimated that approximately 10% to 20% of U.S. residents get the flu, and an average of 114,000 persons are hospitalized for flu-related complications. About 20,000 Americans die on average per year from the complications of flu.'
Is the influenza vaccine safe during pregnancy?
Yes, the flu vaccine is considered to be safe during pregancy. According to this report on Infant Protection Through Maternal Immunization, 'maternal immunization with inactivated influenza virus vaccine is considered safe during any stage of pregnancy and has not been associated with the development of adverse outcomes in infants, including childhood cancer.'2
It is true that the current flu vaccine does contain thimerosal, a mercury-containing compound, which is used as a preservative, but the CDC reports that 'because pregnant women are at increased risk for influenza-related complications and because a substantial safety margin has been incorporated into the health guidance values for organic mercury exposure, the benefit of influenza vaccine with reduced or standard thimerosal content outweighs the potential risk, if any, for thimerosal.'3
The CDC reports that 'a limited amount of influenza vaccine with reduced thimerosal content will be available for the 2002--2003 influenza season.' You can perhaps ask your doctor to get this version of the flu shot for you if you are still concerned about getting a vaccine with thimerosal.
Can you get a flu shot if you are breastfeeding?
Yes. Women who are breastfeeding can get a flu shot, and again, it is a good way to decrease your younger child's chances of getting the flu.
What are the side effects of the influenza vaccine?
The main side effects include local reactions where you got the shot, such as soreness and swelling. More general side effects can also occur, such as fever, malaise, myalgia, but they are more common in people who have never had a flu shot before. Rarely, allergic reactions can also occur.
Who shouldn't get a flu shot?
The main group of people who shouldn't get a flu shot are infants under six months of age and anyone who has had an anaphylactic hypersensitivity (allergic reaction) to eggs or to other components of the influenza vaccine.
1Vaccines in pregnancy. Munoz FM - Infect Dis Clin North Am - 01-Mar-2001; 15(1): 253-71
2A step ahead. Infant protection through maternal immunization. Munoz FM - Pediatr Clin North Am - 01-Apr-2000; 47(2): 449-63
3Prevention and Control of Influenza - Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices: MMWR: May 28, 2004 / 53(RR06);1-40