While much of the world’s attention is currently focused on the new coronavirus (COVID-19), cold and flu season is also fast approaching. Fortunately, there’s a vaccine that can help prevent the flu and its potential complications.

Pregnant? You may be wondering whether the flu shot is safe for you and your baby. Here’s what the experts say about the flu shot and its safety, notes on which shot to get and where to get it, as well as the potential benefits and risks of vaccination.

In short: Yes.

Experts at both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) encourage pregnant women to get the seasonal flu shot whenever it’s appropriate in any trimester of pregnancy.

The flu season runs from October through May of each year. The CDC recommends getting an inactivated vaccine “as soon as it is available,” citing a history of safety when given to millions of women. They also mention various clinical trials, observational studies, and other data that support a consistent safety record.

The CDC further explains that “pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized with flu than women of reproductive age who are not pregnant.”

Why is this exactly? Well, pregnancy may weaken your immune system. This can make you more susceptible to illnesses like the flu. Add to that the extra work your body is already doing, particularly your heart and lungs, and you can see how serious complications might occur and why protection is important.

As with any vaccine, getting the flu shot carries certain risks. You may have heard that some people develop mild side effects within the first 2 days of getting the vaccine.

Side effects include:

  • soreness or swelling at the injection site
  • lightheadedness
  • headache
  • fever
  • body aches
  • nausea
  • tiredness

Also, while it’s rare to have an allergic reaction to the shot, one can occur. For example, if you have a severe egg allergy, tell your doctor about it. Some formulations of the shot include egg protein and can cause a severe allergic reaction in such cases.

Flu shot and miscarriage

You may have heard of a link between the flu vaccine and miscarriage. A 2017 study on this topic suggested that miscarriage is more common in the 28 days following the flu vaccine among those who had received the same vaccination the previous year.

However, consider the study’s limitations. It was performed on a small group of women and examined only two flu seasons. Among the 485 women studied, only 14 had been vaccinated 2 years in a row and miscarried.

A more recent study, which was conducted by many of the same researchers, looked at 1,236 women and 3 subsequent flu seasons. This follow-up study challenged the results of the prior study, as it showed no association between the flu shot and miscarriage.

Keep in mind that 80 percent of spontaneous miscarriages happen in the first trimester, oftentimes before a woman knows she’s pregnant. No other studies before or after have corroborated the findings of the 2017 study.

Based on the most recent and comprehensive information, the CDC, ACOG, and other health experts continue to recommend getting the flu shot.

Flu shot and autism

Another 2016 study explored the association between the flu shot and autism spectrum disorder. It revealed no link between being sick with the flu during pregnancy and a child developing autism. It also examined whether there was an increased risk of autism among children whose mothers had gotten a flu shot in the first trimester.

That sounds scary. After reviewing the rest of the data, though, the researchers determined that the link between the two was “statistically insignificant.” In simple terms, this means that if the trial was repeated, it’s possible they’d arrive at a different result. Thus, the finding should not be given much credence.

Again, more research on the topic is needed, and the researchers specifically say that “these findings do not call for changes in vaccine policy or practice.” As the CDC affirms, no connection has been established between vaccines and autism, despite multiple studies over many years.

(Related: Another massive study finds measles vaccine doesn’t cause autism)

The foremost benefit of getting the flu shot is that it protects you and your baby. The flu shot can help prevent you from getting the flu and lower your risk of developing issues, such as pneumonia, that may affect both you and your unborn child. In fact, the CDC reports it may reduce your risk of developing an acute respiratory infection by up to 50 percent.

Other benefits:

  • Lowers risk of hospitalization. The CDC also reports that the flu shot may lower your risk of hospitalization with flu-related complications by as much as 40 percent.
  • Guards against birth defects. If you get the flu with a fever early in your pregnancy, your baby is at risk of developmental issues like anencephaly, spina bifida, cleft lip, and limb reduction defects, among others. The flu shot may prevent illness from becoming severe and, therefore, prevent these irregularities.
  • Protects baby even after birth. Babies under 6 months old are not able to get a traditional flu shot. Instead, they rely on the protection/antibodies they received in-utero from the shot you got. This is particularly important if your baby is born during flu season. Nursing? These antibodies continue to pass on to your child through breast milk.

There are several options when it comes to the flu vaccine.

First, there’s a standard shot that’s given to most of the population. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot because the virus is inactivated. The standard shot is safe for pregnant women and readily available.

Second, there’s a thimerosal-free version you can get if you have concerns about this mercury-containing ingredient. Keep in mind, thimerosal contains ethyl mercury, which is very different from methyl mercury — the dietary and environmental mercury that people are often worried about.

This version of the vaccine may be slightly harder to find. The CDC shares, though, that there’s only a small amount of thimerosal in the shot and that studies show it does not pose a problem — even during pregnancy.

There’s also a nasal spray version of the vaccine available, but it’s not approved for pregnancy or children under 2, adults over age 50, or those with weakened immune systems. The spray vaccine contains active (live) virus, whereas the shot is made with inactive virus.

Where to get the shot

Your healthcare provider may offer you a flu shot at one of your regularly scheduled prenatal appointments. Shots are also available at many pharmacies, grocery stores, big-box stores (as if you need another excuse to go to Target!), or even at your workplace.

All sites offering vaccines must be approved and licensed in the United States. As long as you haven’t had a severe reaction to a vaccine in the past, you’re safe to get your shot anywhere that’s most convenient to you.

(Related: This is what happens when your child doesn’t get vaccinated)

Speak with your healthcare provider if you have concerns about the flu shot. They can help address your questions and point you to more specific information about the benefits and risks of the vaccine. The CDC is another good resource if you’d like to dig into the science and studies surrounding the vaccine, its effectiveness, and its safety for mom and baby.

Beyond getting the shot, be sure to protect yourself by continuing good hygiene habits (like frequently washing your hands), avoiding touching your face, and covering up those coughs and sneezes.