You can protect your newborn from the flu if you get a flu shot during your pregnancy, says the New England Journal of Medicine. Getting the flu shot during pregnancy reduces flu among infants by as much as 63%, but currently only 1 in 6 women who are pregnant during the flu season get the vaccination, even though it is safe and has been recommended since 1997. A recent nationwide poll conducted for AWHONN and the National Women’s Health Resource Center shows that only 20% of women pregnant during the current flu season plan to get a flu shot.
With H1N1 being the first flu pandemic in decades, federal officials and healthcare experts together are encouraging pregnant women particularly to start planning now to get a flu shot when they become available this fall.
If you’re like most women, you probably didn’t even know that flu shots are recommended for pregnant women, yet the flu can cause major debilitating problems during pregnancy, including increased risk for complications such as high fevers linked to increased risks for certain birth defects, hospitalization and infection if you also have a health problem like asthma or diabetes.
Most healthcare providers typically give the flu shot during the second or third trimester, but if you’re an at-risk mom, such as someone who has asthma, the flu shot can be safely given even as early as the first trimester. The flu shot is also safe for breastfeeding moms and their newborns.
In addition to protecting you, getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy can also protect your infant from influenza—cutting rates of illness by as much as 36% in moms and babies. While infants ages 6 months or younger aren’t vaccinated against the flu, vaccinated moms can pass along protective flu antibodies to their babies while pregnant and during breastfeeding.
If you’re concerned about thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in flu shots, ask your healthcare provider for the thimerosal-free options widely available.