Pregnancy and the Flu

Catching the flu is never good, and especially not when you’re expecting. The illness can be more severe when you’re pregnant, and it may last three times longer in moms-to-be. You may be more likely to get complications like pneumonia, too.

On the bright side, it isn’t likely to hurt your baby. And being pregnant doesn’t make you any more likely to get the flu than women your age who aren’t expecting. Best of all, there are easy ways to avoid it and have a healthy pregnancy.

What's the Best Way to Prevent the Flu?

Get a flu shot. The vaccine is the number one way to prevent this illness. You can get the shot no matter how far along you are -- even the third trimester isn’t too late.

Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. October or November is the best time to get vaccinated, but you can get a shot as late as January.

The shot will protect both you and the baby from getting the flu for 6 months after you give birth. This is especially important, because the flu shot isn’t safe for infants less than 6 months old.

Is the Flu Shot Safe?

It doesn’t contain the live virus and can’t give you the flu. You may have fatigue and muscle aches afterward as your immune system responds to the vaccine.

The flu shot is also OK while you’re breastfeeding. It can’t cause you or your nursing baby to get sick. The shot takes about 2 weeks to work.

Pregnant women should not get the nasal flu vaccine.

Where Do You Get a Flu Shot?

The American Lung Association offers an online flu vaccine clinic locator. Visit the site, enter a zip code and a date (or dates), and you’ll get information about clinics in your area.

There’s also a nasal flu vaccine called FluMist that contains live but weakened viruses. The nasal flu vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy because it hasn’t been tested in pregnant women. The FluMist nasal vaccine can be used in other healthy people between 2 and 49 years old.

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How Should I Treat My Symptoms?

There isn’t a lot of research on how over-the-counter medications affect pregnant women. Call your doctor before you take any over-the-counter treatment.

Your doctor may suggest:

You can usually find these treatments among over-the-counter cold and flu remedies. Check labels carefully.

Your doctor will know what prescription drug you can use. There are 3 to choose from: oseltamivir (Tamiflu), peramivir (Rapivab), or zanamivir (Relenza) in pregnant women with suspected or test-proven flu. Oseltamivir taken by mouth is preferred, because there are studies to show it’s safe and it works.

Are There Any Natural Treatments?

Try these four natural flu remedies:

  • Use sugar- or honey-based lozenges to relieve sore throats and coughs.
  • Get plenty of bed rest.
  • Drink lots of fluids, like water, juice, and caffeine-free tea.
  • Put an air humidifier in your room to provide extra moisture, which can help ease congestion.

How Do You Prevent the Flu?

Get a flu shot. Don’t use FluMist, the nasal spray influenza vaccine. It isn’t recommended for pregnant women.

To avoid catching the illness when you’re pregnant:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Stay away from people who have a cold.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs are often spread when you touch a contaminated surface and then touch these areas.

When Should You Call the Doctor?

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • Your symptoms don't improve or get worse after 3 to 4 days.
  • After feeling a little better, you start having signs of a more serious problem, like a sick-to-your-stomach feeling, vomiting, high fever, shaking chills, chest pain, or coughing with thick, yellow-green mucus.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 10, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:
Mayo Clinic: "Flu shot in pregnancy: Is it safe?"
Medline Plus: "Bird flu virus can pass mother to child: study."
CDC: "Preventing Infections During Pregnancy." 
CDC: "Antiviral Drugs for Seasonal Flu."
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "Flu (Influenza)."

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