Is it safe to get a flu shot during pregnancy?

Answers from Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.

Yes, it's safe to get a flu shot during pregnancy. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that all women who are pregnant during flu season get a flu shot, regardless of their trimester.

A flu shot during pregnancy can help:

  • Prevent the flu and maternal complications. The flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Getting the flu during pregnancy increases your risk of becoming hospitalized. A flu shot will decrease your risk of getting the flu during your pregnancy.
  • Prevent potential pregnancy problems due to the flu. Some research suggests that having the flu or a flu-like illness during the first trimester of pregnancy is linked with an increased risk of fetal birth defects. Flu during pregnancy is also linked with an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight and fetal death.
  • Protect your baby after birth. Infants are at increased risk of severe flu symptoms, but childhood flu vaccines can't begin until a baby is 6 months old. If you have a flu shot during pregnancy, the antibodies you develop will pass through the placenta and breast milk, if you're breast-feeding. These antibodies will help protect your baby from the flu after birth.

When you get vaccinated, request the flu shot — not the nasal spray vaccine. The flu shot is made from an inactivated virus, so it's safe for both mother and baby during any stage of pregnancy. The nasal spray vaccine isn't recommended for use in pregnant women.

While all vaccines carry some risk of adverse effects, such as an allergic reaction, no research has shown an increased risk of complications associated with the flu shot for pregnant women. Women can get the flu shot at any time during pregnancy. There also is no evidence that adverse effects occur in the children of women who receive vaccines with the mercury-based preservative thimerosal during pregnancy. In addition, single-dose flu shots don't contain thimerosal. If you have concerns about the flu shot during pregnancy, talk to your doctor.

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Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.

Sept. 12, 2017 See more Expert Answers