Flu Vaccine During Pregnancy: Benefits, Timing, and Risks

Oct 20, 2023 | Obstetrics

Pregnancy is a journey that is filled with anticipation and preparation. One vital step on this journey is safeguarding the health of both the mother and her unborn child. An essential aspect of this protection is obtaining the flu vaccine. As seasons change and flu season approaches, many pregnant individuals may wonder about the safety, benefits, and ideal timing of the flu vaccine. Here’s what you need to know.

Benefits of the Flu Vaccine During Pregnancy

Protection for the Mother:

During pregnancy, the body naturally suppresses parts of the immune system to protect the developing fetus. This makes pregnant individuals more susceptible to infections. Unvaccinated pregnant individuals who contract the flu are at a higher risk for severe complications than non-pregnant individuals. This includes pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic conditions. Studies have shown that pregnant people who get the flu are more likely to be hospitalized than those who don’t. The flu vaccine stimulates the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against flu viruses. This means that if a pregnant individual is exposed to the flu after being vaccinated, the immune system is better equipped to fend off the virus or reduce the severity of illness and decrease the risk of hospitalization.

Protection for the Baby:

Infants are at a high risk for complications if they contract the flu, but they can’t get vaccinated until they’re six months old. When a pregnant individual gets the flu vaccine, she produces antibodies against the flu. Antibodies produced by the mother in response to the flu vaccine can cross the placenta and protect the baby for several months after birth. This is crucial since infants under six months old are too young to receive the flu vaccine themselves. Some studies suggest that getting the flu during pregnancy can increase the risk of preterm birth and having a baby with a low birth weight. By getting vaccinated, a pregnant individual can potentially reduce these risks.

Ideal Timing for the Flu Shot

Flu season can vary, but it usually peaks between December and February and can last as late as May. It’s recommended that pregnant individuals get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available, ideally before the end of October. However, it’s never too late to get vaccinated. Receiving the flu shot at any stage of pregnancy can provide beneficial protection. Numerous studies have shown that the flu vaccine is safe for both pregnant individuals and their babies. Mild side effects, like soreness at the injection site, a low-grade fever, or aches, might occur but are short-term. The vaccine does not contain the live flu virus, so it can’t give you the flu. Always consult with your OBGYN or healthcare provider about any concerns or questions related to vaccinations during pregnancy.

For Further Reading:

Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/influenza/faq-20058522

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2018/04/influenza-vaccination-during-pregnancy