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Pregnant Women & The Flu

The flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. This is because changes in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy make women (and women up to two weeks postpartum) more prone to severe illness from flu, as well as to hospitalizations and even death. Pregnant women with flu also have a greater chance for serious problems for their developing baby, including premature labor and delivery.

A number of studies have shown that flu vaccination can protect pregnant women and their babies from flu. Because pregnant women are at high risk of serious flu complications, they are recommended for influenza vaccination during any trimester of their pregnancy.  In addition, studies have shown that vaccinating a pregnant woman also can protect a baby after birth from flu. (Mom passes antibodies on to her developing baby that will protect against flu for the first several months after birth.)

The Flu Shot is Safe for Pregnant Women

The risk of premature labor and delivery increases when pregnant women get the flu, and there is a greater chance of their babies having birth defects. Flu shots are a safe way to protect the mother and her developing baby from serious illness and complications from flu. The flu shot has been given to millions of pregnant women over many years, and flu shots have not been shown to cause harm to pregnant women or their babies.

Other Preventive Actions

In addition to getting the flu shot, pregnant women should take additional everyday preventive actions, including covering coughs with the inside of the elbow (not the hand), washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick.

Early Treatment is Important for Pregnant Women

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

If you get sick with flu symptoms call your doctor right away. There are prescription antiviral drugs that can treat flu illness and prevent serious flu complications. CDC recommends that pregnant women with flu symptoms be treated with these drugs.

Having a fever caused by flu infection or other infections early in pregnancy can lead to birth defects in a baby. Pregnant women who get a fever should treat their fever with Tylenol® (or store brand equivalent) and contact their doctor as soon as possible.

When to Seek Emergency Medical Care

If you’re pregnant and have any of these signs, call 911 right away:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • High fever that is not responding to Tylenol® (or store brand equivalent)
  • Decreased or no movement of your baby