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Baby on Board: Flu Shot in Arm

By Mikalee Byerman

Like many women, I had babies in my late 20s — at a time in my life when I was more trusting, less discriminating and (regrettably) far more likely to be spoon fed my decisions.

Yes, I was educated — I had a few degrees under my belt by then — but I probably left it to the “experts” more than I’m proud to admit regarding the health and well being of my babies.

I believed what I was told, and when my doctors recommended vaccinations, I happily obeyed.

Fast forward a decade or so, and I found myself surprisingly pregnant at the age of almost-40. I had raised my two older children, and in the process, had learned a thing or two about that crazy thing called parenting. I also had become far more distrustful of what I was “told.” And I’ll admit, the fear mongering promoted by some facets of the media undoubtedly played a role in that.

So when my obstetrician told me I needed a flu shot — while pregnant — I immediately became suspicious.

Thanks to the media, Jenny McCarthy and her ilk, I heard the word “vaccination” and immediately thought of the worst: autism, brain damage, stunted growth and more. I wouldn’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist by any measure, but I guess a healthy dose of skepticism is an unwanted side effect of maturity.

I immediately went all “Mama Bear” protecting her unborn cub (thanks a million, silly hormones), and I set off to do some research. There was no way I was allowing anyone to inject anything into my incubator of a body without knowing the effect it would have on my growing baby.

But the evidence was overwhelming. Every peer-reviewed journal article I could find, every bit of sound scientific research, promoted the idea that a flu vaccine during pregnancy wasn’t just recommended — it was essential to keep my baby (and me) healthy.

We live in an age where information is available at the click of a mouse. It allowed me to see the truth, but it also opened my eyes to some of the tactics undertaken by far less scientific organizations promoting their own ideas. It turns out, the people who are anti-vax are also pretty darn good at search engine optimization.

But it’s fairly easy to discriminate between the experts and the pseudo-scientists. Sometimes, credentials aren’t enough — look beyond an “MD” or “PhD” and look for professional affiliations, peer-reviewed journal status and sources of expertise.

If you’re pregnant (or know someone who is) and flu vaccination comes up, please spend some time doing the research. And in the meantime, for a snapshot of just a few of the benefits and recommendations, here’s a start:

  • According to the CDC: “Vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to 6 months after they are born. One study showed that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women was 92% effective in preventing hospitalization of infants for flu.”
  • According to the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, the flu shot is safe for pregnant mothers — no increased risk of adverse effects for those vaccinated.
  • According to the New England Journal of Medicine, vaccination during pregnancy substantially reduces the risk of an influenza diagnosis. Additionally, the risk of fetal death was reduced with vaccination during pregnancy.
  • According to the American Journal of Public Health, flu vaccination was associated with improved fetal and neonatal outcomes.
  • According to the Journal of American Medical Association, flu vaccination also may reduce children’s risk of other conditions, such as bipolar disorder, associated with exposure to gestational influenza.
  • According to the U.S. Food and Drug Association, “Is it safe for pregnant women to receive an influenza vaccine that contains thimerosal? Yes. A study of influenza vaccination examining over 2,000 pregnant women demonstrated no adverse fetal effects associated with influenza vaccine.”
  • According to the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, even after a child is born, mothers who got the flu shot while pregnant have provided their babies with extra protection against acute respiratory infections.
  • According to the Mayo Clinic, a flu shot during pregnancy is essential. “Pregnancy puts extra stress on your heart and lungs. Pregnancy can also affect your immune system. These factors increase the risk of becoming severely ill due to the flu.” It also adds that flu vaccine prevents potential pregnancy problems due to the flu. “Flu during pregnancy seems to increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight. In a recent study, babies whose mothers had a flu shot during pregnancy were nearly 50 percent less likely to be hospitalized with the flu during their first flu season than were babies of unvaccinated mothers.”

The other day, I was driving my older children — 15 and 12 — to school. My baby was in her car seat between them, and we were all listening to NPR.

Yeah, I know: I win Boring Mom of the Year.

Anyhow, the story was discussing flu vaccination in detail, including advice from Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School. He emphasized that pregnant women ESPECIALLY should get the flu shot.

“The protection that the woman builds up passes through the placenta and goes into the newborn baby and helps protect that newborn baby during the first six months of its life when the baby is too young to be vaccinated itself,” he said. “And so there’s a double reason to vaccinate pregnant women.”

As I listened to these words, I thought to myself: For me, there’s triple reason — two teens and one baby, all healthy potentially because of that fateful decision to vaccinate while pregnant.

I chose vaccination in my 20s, and I chose vaccination again at 40. Different reasons perhaps, but the same outcome: A house full of healthy, happy children.

Mikalee Byerman is Director of Audience Engagement for the Estipona Group, a Reno-based communications agency, and is a freelance writer, editor and blogger. She also is mom to three happy, healthy children. Well, mostly happy — the picture above notwithstanding.