Healthy Living

Getting the Flu During Pregnancy: Dr. Pringle’s Tips

Nov 14 2023

Concerned about getting the flu during pregnancy? Tamara Pringle, MD, who practices at Bon Secours Richmond OB/GYN, has the tips for you.

Most of us know about influenza, or the flu, by now. This viral infection, which includes symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and sore throat, usually peaks in case numbers between December and March.

“Flu activity can sometimes extend into May,” Dr. Pringle adds. “And the timing of the flu season has been more difficult to predict since the COVID-19 pandemic.”

When you’re pregnant, your body changes in more ways than you may realize. Your heart rate increases and lung capacity decreases, putting more stress on these vital organs. Being pregnant also suppresses your immune system.

This is why pregnant women are more likely than the average person to experience serious flu illness and are at higher risk for hospitalization due to flu symptoms.

“Although many pregnant people won’t have severe complications if they get the flu, it can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia and hospitalizations,” Dr. Pringle says.

Some of these complications may even be life-threatening. Additionally, flu infections can also increase the risk for preterm labor and preterm birth.

How can I treat the flu during pregnancy?

Pregnant women who get the flu should:

  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Try eating small meals to maintain their nutritional intake.
  • If you have a fever, lower your temperature with acetaminophen, especially in the first trimester since fevers can be linked to neural tube defects in early pregnancy.
  • Keep your distance from others while you are sick because you may be contagious for up to one week.

“If you get the flu during pregnancy, you may be a candidate for antiviral medicine,” Dr. Pringle shares. “This prescription medication is best taken early in the onset of symptoms, and it may shorten or decrease the severity of your flu symptoms.”

You should contact your OB-GYN or health care provider to see if you are a candidate for antivirals if you are sick with the flu or have recently been exposed to the flu. Your health care provider can discuss the risks and benefits of taking or not taking this medication.

How can I avoid getting and spreading the flu?

Everyone can help prevent the spread of the flu by:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
  • Covering your coughs and sneezes.
  • Making sure to regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Making sure to not touch your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with viruses that cause the flu.
  • And last but certainly not least, getting the flu vaccine.

Is the flu vaccine safe during pregnancy?

The flu vaccine is offered to everyone 6 months of age and older annually, since it is updated each year. It is preferable that everyone get their flu vaccine by the end of October, but it is still not too late to get one for this year.

“As for pregnant women, you can get the flu vaccine in any trimester,” Dr. Pringle says. “It is also best to get it at least two weeks before your due date. You should also get the vaccine if you are breastfeeding and did not receive one during pregnancy.”

Since babies cannot get a flu vaccine until they are at least 6 months old, getting the flu vaccine while pregnant protects you and your baby.

“The antibodies that your immune system makes in response to the flu vaccine will be passed to your baby by the placenta and through your breast milk,” Dr. Pringle adds. “The vaccine also helps keep you safer, as during pregnancy you are more at risk from having complications from the flu.”

What are some concerns with getting the flu vaccine?

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during pregnancy you should request the injectable vaccine, not the nasal spray.
  • You cannot get the flu from the vaccine, but you can still get the flu after getting the vaccine. It takes two weeks to become fully protected. Even after two weeks, you can still get the flu, but your flu symptoms should be milder, and you will be at a lower risk for serious complications from a flu infection.
  • Side effects of the flu vaccine can include redness or swelling causing a sore arm, muscle aches, fever or headaches. If you experience a serious reaction, contact your medical provider immediately.
  • Although thimerosal (preservative) has not been linked to significant health risks, there is an option of a preservative-free vaccine.
  • An egg allergy is no longer a contraindication to the flu vaccine.

What should everyone consider during the flu season?

Pregnant people and young children are among the individuals more at risk from having serious complications from a flu infection.

“A flu vaccine is the most important step everyone can take to protect pregnant people and their babies from serious flu complications,” Dr. Pringle adds.

With these tips, you should now be ready to tackle the flu during pregnancy.

Also, there is still time to get your flu vaccine for this flu season! And if you are pregnant, talk to your OB-GYN if you have any questions or concerns about the flu or the flu vaccine.

Learn more about the maternity care services we provide at Bon Secours.


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