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Flu Season Frequently Asked Questions - Pregnant Women

Why does CDC advise pregnant women to receive the influenza (flu) vaccine (shot)?
Getting the flu shot is the single best way to protect against the flu. It is important for a pregnant woman to receive the influenza vaccine. A pregnant woman who gets any type of flu has a greater chance for serious health problems. Compared to non-pregnant women who get the flu, pregnant women who contract influenza are more likely to be hospitalized. Pregnant women are also more likely to have serious illness and death from influenza. When a pregnant woman gets a flu shot, it can protect both her and her baby. Research has found that pregnant women who had a flu shot get sick with the flu less often than do pregnant women who did not get a flu shot. Babies born to mothers who had a flu shot in pregnancy also get sick with flu less often than do babies whose mothers did not get a flu shot.

What if I am pregnant and I get the flu?
Call your doctor right away if you have flu symptoms or if you have close contact with someone who has the flu. Pregnant women who get sick with influenza can have serious health problems. Some pregnant women sick with influenza have had early labor and severe pneumonia. Some have died. If you are pregnant and have symptoms of the flu, take it very seriously. Call your doctor right away for advice and possible antiviral medication.

What can I do to protect myself, my baby, and my family?
Getting a flu shot is the single best way to protect against the flu. Talk with your doctor about getting the 2019-2020 flu shot. The influenza vaccine has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby (up to 6 months old) from the flu.

Talk with your doctor right away if you have close contact with someone who has flu symptoms. You might benefit from taking medicine to reduce your chances of getting the flu. Your doctor may prescribe Tamiflu® or Relenza® antiviral medication to help prevent you from becoming sick with the flu.

Is it safe for pregnant women to get a flu shot?
The seasonal flu shot has been given to millions of pregnant women over many years. Flu shots have been shown to be safe for pregnant women and their babies.  It is very important for pregnant women to get the flu shot.

Is it safe for pregnant women to receive an influenza vaccine that contains thimerosal?
Yes. A study of influenza vaccination examining over 2,000 pregnant women demonstrated no adverse fetal effects associated with influenza vaccine. Studies indicate that pregnancy can increase the risk for serious medical complications of influenza. Because pregnant women are at increased risk for influenza-related complications, the benefits of influenza vaccine with reduced or standard thimerosal content outweighs the theoretical risk, if any, of thimerosal.

Can the influenza shot be given at any time during pregnancy?
Influenza vaccines are recommended to pregnant women at any time during pregnancy.

How should I feed my baby if I am sick?
If you can, breastfeed. Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. There are many ways that breastfeeding and breast milk protect your baby’s health. Babies who are breastfed get sick from infections like the flu less often and less severely than babies who are not breastfed.

You do not have to stop breastfeeding if you have the flu, but you have to be careful to protect your baby from getting sick. Because mothers make antibodies to fight diseases they come in contact with, their milk is custom-made to fight the diseases their babies are exposed to as well. This is really important in young babies when their immune system is still developing. It is OK to take medicines to prevent the flu while you are breastfeeding. You should make sure you wash your hands often and take everyday precautions. However, if you develop symptoms of the flu such as fever, cough, or sore throat, you should ask someone who is not sick to care for your baby. If you become sick, someone who is not sick can give your baby your expressed milk.

If there is no one else who can take care of your baby while you are sick, try to wear a face mask at all times when you are feeding or caring for your baby. You should also be very careful about washing your hands and taking everyday precautions to prevent your baby from getting flu. Using a cloth blanket between you and your baby during feedings might also help.

Should the flu shot be given to a pregnant woman who has had flu illness before? Do I need a test to know if I need the shot or not?
A pregnant woman who had a flu-like illness at any time in the past should still get the shot. Those pregnant women that had flu symptoms in the past do not need to be tested, but should get the vaccine.

What are the possible side effects of the 2019-2020 influenza shots?
The most common side effects after flu shots are mild, such as being sore and tender, red and swollen where the shot was given. Some people might have headache, muscle aches, fever, and nausea or feel tired. If these problems happen, they usually begin soon after the shot and may last as long as 1-2 days. Some people may faint after getting any shot. Rarely, flu shots can cause serious problems like severe allergic reactions. However, life-threatening allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare. A person who has a severe (life-threatening) allergy to eggs or to anything else in the vaccine should not get the shot, even if she is pregnant. Pregnant women should tell the person giving the shots if they have any severe allergies or if they have ever had a severe allergic reaction following a flu shot.

If a pregnant woman delivers her baby before receiving her flu shot, should she still receive it?
Yes. Besides protecting her from infection, the shot will produce protection that can be passed to the infant through her breast milk. Flu shots are only given to infants 6 months of age and older. Everyone who lives with or gives care to an infant less than 6 months of age should get the influenza vaccine. 

What antiviral medicines are available for pregnant women who have the flu?
Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) or zanamivir (Relenza®) can be used to treat influenza. To get these medications, a doctor needs to write a prescription. These medicines fight against the flu by keeping the viruses from multiplying in your body. If you get sick, the antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from flu illness. At this time, Tamiflu® is the best medicine to treat pregnant women who have the flu.

Is it safe for me to take an antiviral medicine for flu while I am pregnant?
The flu can cause severe illness and even death in pregnant women. Taking antiviral medicine can help prevent these severe outcomes. Studies suggest that antiviral medicines are safe for the pregnant woman and her unborn baby. Being pregnant should not stop women from using antiviral medicines if their doctor advises them to take the medicine. Antiviral medicines can be taken at any stage during pregnancy.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)