Thomas Howell Jr., M.D.
Obstetrics & Gynecology (OB-GYN), Prenatal Care
Flu season usually starts in the fall, peaks during the height of winter and tapers around spring. Other respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus, enterovirus, the common cold and COVID-19, also can spread during flu season and cause flu-like symptoms.
One of the best ways to protect yourself from illness is to get a seasonal flu shot. Vaccination is vital for those at higher risk of complications, including people who are pregnant.
A person's risk of getting sicker from influenza, from COVID-19, from any kind of pulmonary respiratory disease increases during pregnancy.
Pregnancy tends to be an immunocompromised health status. You have another human growing inside you that your body needs not to reject. Your body puts your immunity down a little bit. Another reason is that pregnancy makes people breath faster due to chemicals in the blood and anatomic changes as the baby grows.
The benefits of vaccination can protect both adult and baby. A study on influenza vaccine effectiveness found that flu vaccination reduced hospitalization during pregnancy by up to 40%. Antibodies developed from a flu shot during pregnancy pass through the placenta (and through breast milk if breastfed). Those antibodies protect the baby from the flu after birth.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months or older. Vaccination can reduce your risk of the flu and its severity, lowering the risk of having severe illness from the flu and needing hospitalization.
People who are pregnant should get the flu shot made from an inactivated virus and not the flu nasal spray vaccine, which is a live vaccine. It's not a virus that the baby can get infected by, it doesn't give you the flu, and it doesn't make you sick, although occasionally you can have some mild aches or arm soreness.
Tips to stay healthy during flu season
Along with vaccination, follow these tips to stay healthy during flu season:
- Get adequate rest.
- Eat a healthy diet, especially fruits and vegetables.
- Get regular exercise.
- Stay home when sick.
- Keep your children home when they are sick.
- Avoid others if they are sick.
- Follow your pregnancy plan.
Know your immunization status
It's worth knowing your immunization status for measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox during pregnancy because we are starting to see a rise again in those diseases due to a lack of immunization in the last few years. If you're not immune or have not had chickenpox, you should stay away from people that have active shingles because they're possibly shedding chickenpox virus.
The CDC recommends everyone get their flu shot by the end of October. People who are pregnant also are encouraged to get their COVID-19 vaccination and booster when eligible.
The COVID-19 vaccine also has offered some protection to the baby after birth. Infants are vulnerable, particularly to respiratory disease. And so, getting vaccinated during pregnancy not only helps you not get sick, but also helps your baby not get sick.