The early weeks of pregnancy can be a nerve-racking time full of unknowns—but exciting all the same. You're already off to a great start by coming to us for a debriefing on one pretty controversial yet extremely important subject matters: Getting your flu shot while you're pregnant.
Since the shot takes two weeks to kick in, getting vaccinated during early fall—preferably by the end of October—is a must if you want the most protection from the yearly breakout. And with that sweet spot right around the corner, we turned to Parents' expert Dr. Lisa Hollier, chief medical officer of OB/GYN at The Center for Children and Women and president of ACOG, to ease your mind about making the right decision to receive your flu shot while pregnant. Here are the answers to all the most common questions moms have come flu season.
Why should pregnant women get the flu shot?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not. This is especially true during the second and third trimesters. Blame changes in your immune system, heart, and lungs for this unfortunate truth. Plus, the CDC notes that flu vaccines given during pregnancy can help protect a newborn for several months postpartum before a baby is old enough to receive the vaccination themselves. Consider the passing of antibodies as a welcome to the real-world gift.
The flu can also be harmful to a developing baby. “A common flu symptom is a fever, which may be associated with neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes for a developing baby,” writes the CDC.
Are there alternatives to the flu shot during pregnancy?
The short answer is no. Although the live attenuated influenza vaccine aka the nasal spray flu vaccine is on the market, the CDC prohibits pregnant women and children younger than 2-years-old from using the vaccine.
Is there a point in a pregnancy when the flu shot is not safe?
“No. The flu shot is safe throughout pregnancy and the inactivated influenza vaccine can be given to all pregnant women during any trimester. It’s also safe for postpartum and breastfeeding women to receive the flu shot if they did not receive it during pregnancy,” explained Dr. Hollier.
Are there possible side effects?
There are plenty of studies that show receiving a flu vaccine while pregnant isn’t harmful to women or their babies. But, the CDC further explains that although studies show that getting a flu vaccination during pregnancy doesn’t add risk to having miscarriage, “a recent study showed that women in early pregnancy who received two consecutive annual flu shots during 2010-11 and 2011-12, did have an increased risk of miscarriage in the 28 days after receiving the second vaccine.” Although the CDC is continuing their investigation of this find, they still recommend pregnant women to get the flu shot after discussing with their doctor.
Less severe side effects can include soreness, redness, swelling, fainting, headache, fever, muscle aches, nausea, and fatigue. If one experiences these side effects usually begin right after the shot is given and last 1-2 days.
Where should pregnant women be vaccinated?
“The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that Ob/Gyn’s administer the flu shot to their pregnant patients in their offices. If the flu shot isn’t offered in a practice, obstetrician-gynecologists and other obstetric care providers should refer patients to another health care provider, pharmacy, or community vaccination center to ensure that pregnant women have access to the shot,” explained Dr. Hollier.
What if I have a severe egg allergy?
Did you know that people with a severe, life-threatening egg allergy should not get the flu shot even when pregnant? This includes an allergy to any vaccine component including egg protein. The CDC points out that most people who have an allergy to eggs can be vaccinated without being monitored for 30 minutes following. But, if an allergy is severe, one should speak to their doctor about the possibility of being vaccinated in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting with a health care provider who can recognize and treat a severe allergic reaction or advise one to avoid the vaccination altogether.
What is a thimerosal-free flu vaccine?
First off, thimerosal is preservative found in multi-dose vials of the influenza vaccine. Dr. Hollier wants you to know that there isn’t scientific evidence that thimerosal-containing vaccines cause health or developmental problems in children born to women who received vaccines with thimerosal during pregnancy.
“‘Thimerosal-free’ means that it does not contain the preservative and thimerosal-free formulations of the influenza vaccine are available. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices does not indicate a preference for thimerosal-containing or thimerosal-free vaccines for any group, including pregnant women,” Dr. Hollier confirmed.