Flu and pregnancy: Symptoms and prevention

By Jenilee Matz, MPH Dec 15, 2023 • 3 min

Certain groups of people have a higher risk of complications from the flu, including pregnant women. If you catch the flu during pregnancy, you and your developing baby can be at risk for dangerous complications, even death. Here you'll learn more about the flu in pregnancy and ways to prevent the flu, including the flu shot.

The flu and pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body goes through changes that affect the immune system, heart and lungs. These changes make pregnant women, and women up to two weeks postpartum, more likely to get the flu and develop severe illnesses from the flu. This can lead to pneumonia and even hospitalizations. In addition, catching the flu during pregnancy can also harm your baby. The flu in pregnancy is linked with an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm birth and low birth weight babies. A fever during pregnancy, which is a common flu symptom, may be associated with neural tube defects and other poor outcomes for a developing baby.

Flu prevention is especially important during pregnancy. You can reduce your chances of becoming ill by adopting a few everyday preventive actions. These include washing your hands often, eating a wholesome diet, getting plenty of sleep, staying away from people who are sick, avoiding touching your eyes and nose, and not sharing food or drinks with others. However, the most effective way to prevent getting the flu while pregnant, and even after pregnancy, is to get the flu shot.

Pregnancy and the flu shot Can pregnant women get the flu shot?

Yes, getting the flu shot while pregnant is considered safe, and flu shots have been given to millions of pregnant women with a good safety record. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), numerous scientific studies and years of clinical experience have shown the flu vaccine to be safe and effective during pregnancy. What's more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that getting a flu vaccine is the most important step in protecting against the flu during pregnancy.

Should pregnant women get the flu shot?

Yes, you should get the flu vaccine during pregnancy. The CDC recommends that women get the flu shot during any trimester of pregnancy. Some studies suggest the flu shot can lower the risk of flu-related respiratory infections in pregnant women by up to one-half and flu-related hospitalizations by 40%. If you get the flu shot in pregnancy but still catch the flu, your illness will likely be milder, and mild cases of the flu don't usually harm pregnant women or their babies.

What's more, when you receive the flu vaccine during pregnancy, you pass flu antibodies on to your baby. This is the most effective way to protect your baby from the flu for the first several months after birth, when they are too young to receive the flu vaccine.

Which flu vaccine should pregnant women receive?

Each flu season, pregnant women should receive one dose of the standard-dose injectable flu shot and not the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV or nasal spray flu vaccine).

What if you get the flu while pregnant?

Flu symptoms in pregnancy are the same as general flu symptoms. Signs of the flu typically come on abruptly and can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, in some cases

Symptoms of the flu tend to improve over two to five days, but the illness can last a week or longer. Weakness and fatigue may linger for several weeks.

If you have signs or symptoms of the flu, see your healthcare provider. If you are diagnosed with the flu, seeking treatment as soon as symptoms appear is especially important for pregnant women. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medications to make your illness milder, help you feel better faster and reduce the risk of potentially serious flu complications. These medicines work best when started within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. Other treatment options include taking acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) if you have a fever to bring down your body temperature, along with antiviral medicines. Getting enough rest and drinking plenty of fluids can also help you feel better.

If you develop any of the following symptoms during pregnancy, seek emergency medical care right away:

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Constant pain or pressure in your chest or abdomen
  • Persistent confusion or dizziness, or trouble getting up
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe weakness
  • Not urinating
  • Fever or cough that improves but then returns or gets worse
  • High fever that doesn't come down with acetaminophen
  • Seizures
  • Decreased or no movement of your baby

The flu shot and pregnancy: An important combination

Getting vaccinated for the flu during pregnancy is the best way to reduce your risk and your baby's risk of complications from the flu. Strive to get your flu shot as soon as it becomes available in your community. If you develop flu symptoms during pregnancy, see your healthcare provider right away.

Clinically reviewed and updated December 2023.

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