From buying the best car seat to upgrading the family vehicle, expectant parents will research the best ways to ensure their newborn’s safety. However, keeping your child safe isn’t always about the newest equipment and technology. In some cases, making sure your little one is safe is as simple as a visit to the doctor’s office.
“A flu shot is one of the best ways to protect the health of pregnant women and children—both before and after birth,” says Jenny Graber, MD, OB/GYN at Riddle Hospital, part of Main Line Health. “Pregnant women and children six months of age and younger are especially at risk of getting sick with the flu virus and having complications as a result.”
Physical changes during pregnancy can affect a woman’s lungs and weaken her immune system, which make her at a greater risk for complications like ear and sinus infections and pneumonia. These complications can lead to respiratory failure, which is why pregnant women who get the flu are much more likely to end up admitted to the hospital with severe illness. Pregnant women who get the flu are also at higher risk of preterm labor and preterm birth, which is why a vaccination during pregnancy is so important.
Of course, even with the obvious benefits, expectant mothers may have concerns about getting vaccinated. Dr. Graber offers some responses to the most common questions expectant mothers might have about flu vaccination.
My baby will be born before flu season begins. Do I still need it?
Yes. Even if your baby is born in June, he or she will only be four months old in October during flu season. Infants who get the flu during the first few months of life can get very ill. Children six months of age and younger are at an increased risk of getting the flu virus because they are not yet eligible to receive the flu vaccination, which means they depend on their mother’s immunity. The good news is that if you get a flu vaccination during pregnancy, some of that immunity may transfer through the placenta to the baby and help protect the baby in the first few months of life.
Pregnant women can be vaccinated during any trimester, so don’t delay in making an appointment with your doctor or heading to a local pharmacy for your vaccination. Just make sure you get the injected shot form of the vaccination — the nasal mist form is not safe for pregnant women. If you weren’t vaccinated during pregnancy, you can still get the vaccination after delivery and pass on your immunity to your baby through breastfeeding.
I’ve heard the flu vaccine can make me sick.
This is a common misconception — and not just among pregnant women. Although some individuals may experience flu-like symptoms after their vaccination, such as soreness and redness at the injection site, muscle aches, and nausea, these symptoms are typically mild and disappear in 1–2 days. In rare instances, flu shots can cause a severe allergic reaction. Still, you’re safer with a vaccination than without.
“The risks for pregnant women who do not get the flu shot are far greater than they are for those who do get the flu shot,” says Dr. Graber. “Although women may experience some mild symptoms, these are not nearly as damaging to their health as the flu illness might be.”
I’m worried about the presence of thimerosal in my flu vaccine. Is there a thimerosal-free vaccine available?
Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, is included in doses of the flu vaccine to prevent germs, bacteria, and fungi. These preservatives are necessary to prevent contamination. However, many women are understandably cautious of a mercury-based preservative in their flu vaccine. Numerous studies have been conducted, and thimerosal-containing vaccines have never been demonstrated to cause autism in children born to women who received these vaccines.
Although studies have shown that there is very little risk to women who receive a flu vaccination that includes thimerosal, there are thimerosal-free vaccinations available as well. If you’re interested in a thimerosal-free vaccination, or have questions about these vaccines, talk to your doctor.
For a full list of where the flu vaccine is being distributed in your area, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.