Flu and Pregnancy

Vaccinations help keep expectant mothers from contracting the flu, which also helps to protect their unborn children.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday concludes that women who receive flu vaccinations during pregnancy are less likely to contract the flu, and so have a reduced risk of influenza-related fetal death. The report also confirms the safety of flu vaccinations for women in the later stages of pregnancy. 

Researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and other agencies examined pregnancies in Norway during the 2009 flu pandemic to combat anecdotal reports of fetal deaths shortly after mothers were given vaccinations. During the 2009 outbreak, there were 117,347 eligible pregnancies. Fifty-four percent of these mothers were given flu shots during their second or third trimesters.

Scientists found that:

  • if a woman contracts the flu while pregnant, the risk of fetal death increases
  • flu shots may reduce the risk of flu-related fetal death
  • flu vaccinations themselves do not increase the risk of fetal death

“Given the danger posed by maternal influenza virus infection for fetal survival, our study adds to growing evidence that vaccination of pregnant women during an influenza pandemic does not harm—and may benefit—the fetus,” researchers concluded. “We found no basis for withholding influenza vaccination from pregnant women in their second or third trimester—an important group, given that these women can be particularly vulnerable to the severe effects of influenza virus infection.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), women are more prone to serious complications—such as bacterial pneumonia and dehydration—related to the seasonal flu virus because of changes to their immune system, lungs, and heart during pregnancy. In fact, during the 2009 pandemic pregnant women accounted for five percent of all flu-related deaths, though they only accounted for one percent of the population. 

The 2013 Flu Season

The results couldn’t have come at a better time, as the U.S. is in the middle of another particularly tough flu season.

Since the beginning of the year, the majority of states in the U.S. have reported high levels of influenza-like illness. According to the latest numbers from the CDC, 8.1 people per 100,000 are being hospitalized for flu symptoms with widespread flu cases across 47 states.

Again this year, the CDC recommends a flu vaccination for all qualified people, including pregnant women. Those who should get a flu shot include:

  • children older than 6 months
  • people whose immune systems are compromised by disease or medication use
  • morbidly obese people
  • people at a high risk of developing serious complications, such as pneumonia
  • people 65 and older
  • caregivers in contact with high-risk people

One large, often overlooked, advantage of getting vaccinated is lowering the risk of transmission to other people who may be vulnerable, which is why vaccinations are so important.

Overcoming Your Fear of Needles

A fear of needles—trypanophobia—is a common reason people decide not to get a flu shot. Roughly 20 percent of the population has some fear of needles or injections.

If the "shot" part of the flu shot has you worried, distracting yourself during the process can help.

Healthline has developed a smartphone app for just this purpose. Sure, it’s meant for your little ones, but no one will blame you for using it if that’s what it takes to get the job done.

Check out the app in the iTunes Store.

More Flu Resources