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, that could lead to hospitalization. And a serious flu raises the risk of preterm labor and delivery.
On the bright side, a flu 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?
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.
If you have had contact with someone who has the flu, your doctor may recommend that you take an antiviral medication as a prevention measure.
Is the Flu Shot Safe?
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?
Pregnant women should not use a nasal flu vaccine called FluMist that contains live but weakened viruses. It has not been tested for safety during pregnancy.
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:
- Acetaminophen , the preferred treatment for fever, aches, and pains
- Saline nasal spray or nasal irrigation
- Pseudoephedrine, the decongestant, may be helpful. Avoid it in the first trimester or if you have high blood pressure.
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?
Pregnant women should take antiviral drugs as a first-line treatment. For symptoms, 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.