It’s not too late to get a flu shot – especially if you’re pregnant, say experts at the March of Dimes.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging all Americans to get an influenza vaccine, and pregnant women should be at the front of that line. The flu vaccine is safe during pregnancy and can protect both mother and baby from the flu and its possible consequences.
Pregnant women are at higher risk of complications from flu because pregnancy takes a toll on their respiratory and immune systems. Pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized with flu and influenza infections can increase their risk of preterm labor and delivery. Health complications from influenza, such as pneumonia, can be serious and even deadly.
Newborns are also at an increased risk of severe illness and even death from the flu. Nationwide, 64 child deaths have been reported this flu season.
(MORE: Pregnant Moms’ Flu Linked to Higher Risk of Autism Among Children)
Studies have shown, however, that if mothers are vaccinated during pregnancy their newborns are less likely to become ill with the flu during their first six months. It’s critical for a newborn to have this passive immunity from mom during those early months since it’s not recommended that babies under six months receive a flu shot.
Concerns about flu shots having a negative impact on developing babies in utero also seem to be unfounded. Studies that included thousands of pregnant women who received the seasonal flu vaccine found that their babies did not have a higher risk of being born too soon or developing a birth defect when compared with babies born to women who did not get immunized. In fact, researchers found that women who were vaccinated were less likely to suffer a stillbirth compared to those who did not get vaccinated.
Based on this evidence, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the March of Dimes, and the CDC all urge pregnant women to get their flu shots to avoid getting infected, and if they do, to treat their symptoms as soon as possible in order to keep themselves and their growing baby healthy.
Women seem to be listening, since almost half (47%) of 1660 pregnant women surveyed by the CDC in early 2012 reported they had received their flu shot, up from less than 30% four years ago.
And flu shots aren’t the only way that pregnant women can lower the risk of catching influenza. They can limit contact with others who are sick, and if they do get sick themselves, they should cough or sneeze into a tissue or an arm, and avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth. Washing hands with soap and water before and after touching others, and making sure not to share dishes, glasses or utensils with those who are sick can also protect them from influenza. The worst of the flu season may be over, but it never hurts to be careful.