It’s that time of year again — flu season — and if you haven’t gotten your flu shot, now is the time to do it, especially if you’re pregnant.
Many young and healthy pregnant women, particularly those who have never received the flu vaccine, question whether vaccination is necessary or even safe. Yes — it is not only safe, but also vital for preventing risks to you and your baby. Physiological changes that occur in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women more susceptible to serious illness, hospitalization and even death from influenza. Serious illness during pregnancy can increase risks to the baby, including premature labor and birth. We advocate strongly for the flu vaccine during pregnancy and always have plenty on hand.
Now there is even more evidence of the flu shot’s importance in ensuring the health of your newborn.
A large Danish study recently published in Pediatrics found a two-fold risk of autism in children whose mothers suffered from influenza before week 32 and a three-fold risk of autism in children whose mothers suffered from prolonged fever (more than one week) before week 32. That’s because maternal immune activation and inflammation during pregnancy is associated with deviations in brain development. The study found no correlation between autism and mild febrile illness or infections during pregnancy.
Here’s a short guide to preventing illness, coping with flu symptoms and getting your vaccine.
Tips for Preventing Illness
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth when you are sick.
- Get plenty of sleep, stay active, manage your stress, eat nutritional foods and drink lots of fluids.
- Wash your hands. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based cleanser.
How to Cope with a Flu-like Illness
- Take Tylenol to reduce fever and drink plenty of fluids.
- Call your doctor right away. An anti-viral medication may be necessary, and the earlier, the better.
When to Seek Emergency Care
- Difficulty breathing;
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen;
- Sudden dizziness;
- Severe or persistent vomiting;
- High fever (over 101 degrees) that doesn’t respond to Tylenol;
- Decreased movement of your baby.
Flu Vaccine Basics
- You cannot get the flu from the flu shot.
- The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy.
- It takes about two weeks to develop immunity to the flu after getting the vaccine.
You should not get the flu vaccine if:
- You are allergic to chicken eggs.
- You have had a previous severe reaction to a flu shot.
- You have a moderate illness with fever. If you are sick, wait until you recover.