Flu During Pregnancy: Symptoms, Prevention, and Vaccinations
During pregnancy, changes occur in your immune system, heart, and lungs. Additional stress is put on the heart and lungs as the lung capacity decreases and heart rate increases during pregnancy. During this time the immune system is also naturally suppressed making you more susceptible to the flu during pregnancy.
Getting the flu while pregnant can lead to pneumonia and even hospitalization, so it is important to do what you can to prevent getting the flu during pregnancy. It also places your baby at risk. Studies have found having the flu during pregnancy can increase your chances of miscarriage, premature birth, and low birth weight.
What are the Symptoms of the flu while pregnant?
The symptoms of the flu include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath/Cough
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Sudden chills or fever
- Body aches
How Can I Prevent the Flu During Pregnancy?
There are many steps that can be taken as precautionary measures to prevent the flu. A few of these simple steps include regularly washing your hands, healthy eating habits, getting plenty of sleep, and staying away from those who have the flu. The CDC recommends getting your flu vaccination as the most effective way to prevent getting the flu while pregnant.
Are Flu Vaccinations Safe during Pregnancy?
Flu vaccination shots are proven safe for the pregnant mother and unborn baby. However, the flu nasal spray (LAIV) vaccine is not recommended for women who are pregnant, or who are trying to conceive, as it contains a live strain of the virus (these are being phased out of treatment anyway).
Pregnant women can get vaccinated for the flu at any time during their pregnancy, although it is recommended to be vaccinated early on during flu season (October). In addition to the benefit of preventing the mother from catching the flu while pregnant, the flu vaccine also has positive benefits for the unborn baby.
When a mother gets vaccinated while she is pregnant, antibodies are transmitted from the vaccinated mother to the unborn baby across the placenta. The vaccination can protect the infant for up to 6 months after birth. Studies have also found that prevention of the flu in pregnant women by immunization can positively affect the growth of the unborn baby.
The flu shot is also proven to be safe for mothers who are breastfeeding, as the antibodies pass through the breast milk harmlessly to your baby. The only side effects include soreness, tenderness, and redness where the shot was given.
What if I Catch the Flu during pregnancy?
If you begin feeling ill with any of the symptoms of the flu, or feel you may have it, contact your doctor immediately. Your doctor can prescribe you safe antiviral medications to treat the flu. Taking antiviral medications as soon as you find out you are sick can reduce the amount of time you are sick. Other steps to treat the flu include getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
According to the Office of Teratology Services, a safe medication to take to lower fever and treat aches and pains is acetaminophen (such as Tylenol). Other possibly safe medications include dextromethorphan (Robitussin-DM or Delsym), guaifenesin, or cough drops. However, it is always important to consult your doctor before taking any medications. Some medications are not safe in the first or second trimesters (only third), and some require that you get a specific type of the medication (i.e. one not containing alcohol or ibuprofen). Your doctor can give you specifics for your situation.
In Case of Emergency
If you experience any of the following symptoms seek emergency care right away:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or belly
- Sudden dizziness or confusion
- Vomiting that is severe or constant
- Decreased or no movement of your unborn baby
- High fever (above 102 degrees Fahrenheit) or a lower one that does not go down in 24 hours with Tylenol.
Comprised of the following References:
Baystate Health (2014). Pregnancy & the Flu. Retrieved from https://www.baystatehealth.org/Baystate/Main+Nav/About+Us/Community+Programs/Flu+and+H1N1+Information+Center/Pregnancy+%26+the+Flu
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2014, February 14). Pregnant Women & Influenza (Flu). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/pregnant.htm
Cunningham, Leveno &Bloom (2005). Williams Obstetrics ( 22nd ed). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Harms (2012, May 25). Is antiviral flu medication safe during pregnancy?. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/flu-and-pregnancy/faq-20058012
Harm (2013, August 22). Is it safe to get the flu shot during pregnancy?. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/influenza/faq-20058522
United States Department of Health and Health Services. Pregnant Women. Retrieved from https://www.flu.gov/at-risk/pregnant/