Expectant mothers should get flu shots

Healthy Living by Joel Henry, M.D.

Dr. Joel Henry

I see a lot of expectant mothers who are taking the right steps toward making sure they have a carefree pregnancy. They eat right, watch their weight and exercise. 

But when it’s flu season, they need to take greater precautions to protect themselves from influenza.

Expectant mothers are vulnerable to the flu for several reasons, including a decreased breathing capacity and because their immunity is lowered to accommodate the fetus.  When the immune system is lowered, the expectant mother can’t fight the virus.

Bronchitis, pneumonia and respiratory failure are just a few of the negatives that can happen if a pregnant woman gets the flu. These complications can be fatal. Other complications may include premature birth and low birth weight. 

Flu shots are the best way for an expectant mother to avoid these problems.

Some of my patients have asked me if getting the vaccine will harm the fetus. The answer is no. The flu shot has been given to millions of pregnant women over many years and has been shown to be safe for both mother and fetus.

The flu shot can be given at any time during pregnancy and is advised to be given to any pregnant woman who will be pregnant during the flu season, extending from October through May each year (the nasal spray vaccine should not be used on pregnant patients).

Vaccinating moms during pregnancy not only protects the mom, but also protects their newborns from influenza for up to six months after birth, because antibodies against the flu pass from mom to baby. The vaccine cannot be used in infants younger than six months. Expectant mothers can get flu shots during regularly scheduled prenatal visits.

Pregnant women who get flu-like symptoms should call their doctor right away. Often times, they will be prescribed an anti-viral medicine that treats the flu. If the woman has a fever, she should take a fever reducing drug such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and call their doctor as soon as possible. 

Women should call 911 and seek emergency medical care immediately if they have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, dizziness, confusion, persistent vomiting, high fever not responding to acetaminophen, or decreased or no movement of the baby. 

Aside from getting the flu shot, pregnant women can protect themselves further by washing their hands or using antiseptic gels to ward off the virus. 

By getting immunized from the flu and following a few simple steps, mothers-to-be will decrease their risk of serious illness and improve their chances of having a healthy pregnancy and newborn.


Dr. Joel Henry is an obstetrician/gynecologist with UW Health Fitchburg.

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