8 Myths About the flu in Pregnancy: Debunked
By Jennifer Lincoln, MD, IBCLC, Board Certified OB/GYN
For many women, pregnancy is a time when they scrutinize everything that goes into their body for the sake of their developing baby. With flu season officially here, now is a good time to dispel a few myths about the illness and reiterate the importance of the vaccine, which is especially relevant to women pregnant during this time.
1. Getting the flu isn’t that bad. For most people, getting infected and sick from the influenza virus is not pleasant. Symptoms can include prolonged fever, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and more. However, the flu can make pregnant women much sicker than their non-pregnant counterparts. Women who get the flu when they are pregnant are more at risk for being hospitalized and having severe respiratory complications. They are also at an increased risk of miscarriage and sadly, hospital records from past outbreaks have shown that pregnant women were disproportionately high when it came to flu-related deaths.
2. I don’t want to get the flu from the flu shot. You can’t. The flu shot that pregnant women receive is an inactivated virus—that is, it is completely dead. There is no way you can get infected with the flu from your flu vaccine!
3. I’ve never had the flu, and I’m never sick, so I’m not worried. That is wonderful that you haven’t ever had the flu and are so healthy, but pregnancy is a time when your body is naturally immunosuppressed. This is because your body downgrades your immune system so you don’t reject the baby growing inside of you. As such, you are much more prone to infections when you are pregnant, and the flu is one of them that can hit you hard.
4. I don’t want the flu vaccine because I don’t want to hurt my baby. It is totally normal to analyze everything you put into your body when you are pregnant. However, we know the flu shot is safe as it has been given over many years and no adverse effects have been detected in pregnant women or their babies. We do know that pregnant women and newborns definitely have worse outcomes when they are infected with the flu.
5. Vaccines can cause autism. The study that originally cited this has been retracted, and the author who wrote it lost his medical license for falsifying data. There is no data that vaccines cause autism. We do know, however, that fevers in pregnancy can put developing babies at increased risk for neurological defects and miscarriage.
6. I got the vaccine last year and still got the flu! So why bother this year? Each flu season, vaccine developers try to predict which strains of the virus will hit us hardest this year. It is an educated estimation, but sometimes you still may get the flu even though you are vaccinated. It may be that you contracted a strain that wasn’t in the vaccine. Another possibility is that you did get a strain that was in the vaccine, and though you still got sick, your symptoms weren’t as bad as they could have been and the time you were sick was shorter—which is still better protection than nothing in pregnant women who can get so sick.
7. My friend/mother/doctor/midwife said I don’t need the flu vaccine. They are wrong! Of course they want to protect you and mean well, but if a medical professional is not recommending the flu vaccine, than they are not up-to-date when it comes to recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
8. I don’t like needles—they hurt! It’s true that needle sticks aren’t fun, but it’s a small needle and very quick. One guarantee is that it is a lot quicker and less uncomfortable than childbirth!
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Committee Opinion # 608: Influenza vaccination during pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Pregnant? Get a Flu Shot!
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