First of all, congratulations if you’re pregnant or planning to have a baby soon. Naturally, your major focus right now is having a problem-free pregnancy and welcoming a healthy baby into the world. The last thing you want to be dealing with is flu and symptoms like fever, headaches, a sore throat, muscle aches and tiredness.
If you’re wondering about the safety and benefits of being vaccinated, here are the top things that GP's, obstetricians and midwives think pregnant women should know about flu and the free flu vaccine:
- What is the flu (influenza)?
- The flu is serious, especially for pregnant women and their babies.
- The flu shot is the best protection for you – and your baby.
- The flu shot is safe for pregnant women and their babies.
- How do I get a free flu shot?
- The flu shot can't give you the flu.
- What do I do if I have symptoms of the flu?
- Simple precautions to further protect you and your baby from flu.
- How to get further information.
What is the flu (influenza)?
Influenza, or flu, is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The influenza virus is mainly spread from person to person through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through touching contaminating surfaces.
While the symptoms can be mild in young adults, if the infection is spread to a pregnant woman or a newborn baby it can be life-threatening.
The flu is serious, especially for pregnant women and their babies
Getting the flu can cause serious problems when you are pregnant. Even if you are generally healthy, changes in immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make you more likely to get severely ill from the flu.
Pregnant women who get the flu are at higher risk of hospitalization, and even death, than non-pregnant women. Severe illness during your pregnancy can also be dangerous to your developing baby because it increases the chance for significant problems, such as premature labour and delivery.
The flu shot is the best protection for you – and your baby.
You can get the flu shot (vaccine) at any time during your pregnancy. Some of the antibodies that your body makes in response to the vaccine pass onto your baby during your pregnancy. These antibodies will help protect your baby from flu in the crucial first few months of life.
This is important because babies less than 6 months of age are too young to get a flu vaccine. When you breastfeed your infant, antibodies may also be passed through the breast milk.
It takes at least two weeks to make antibodies after getting a flu vaccine and for pregnant women it might be up to four weeks. Like all medications, the flu vaccine carries with it a small risk of side effects, like temporary soreness at the injection site.
The flu shot is safe for pregnant women and their babies.
Yes, the vaccine is safe for both the pregnant woman and her baby when given during pregnancy. There is no evidence of an increased risk of problems for mothers or their babies when the mother is given a flu shot during pregnancy.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) strongly recommends influenza vaccination for pregnant women to protect both the mother and the baby.
How do I get a free flu shot?
Talk to your doctor today about getting free flu shot. While it is recommended that all pregnant women should be vaccinated as early as possible in pregnancy, the precise timing of vaccination will depend on the time of year and vaccine availability.
The flu shot can't give you the flu.
The mild symptoms that some people get after a flu shot are usually related to the vaccine generating an immune response. This is how vaccines work - by training the immune system to recognise parts of the flu virus so it can respond more effectively when it encounters the real thing. There is no "live virus" in the flu shot. Your body responds to parts of the flu virus in the vaccine; you cannot catch the flu from it.
What do I do if I have symptoms of the flu?
Call your doctor immediately.
If you have flu-like symptoms (e.g. fever, a cough, body aches, headache, and fatigue) – even if you have already had a flu shot – call your doctor or clinic right away. Doctors can advise on appropriate treatments for flu that are safe to use even during pregnancy.
Because pregnant women are at high risk of serious flu complications, it is often recommended that they be treated quickly with antiviral medicines if they get flu symptoms. These medicines work best when started early, ideally within 48 hours of the symptoms starting.
Fever is often a symptom of flu and may be harmful to the baby during pregnancy. Paracetamol can reduce a fever, but you should still call your doctor to discuss your illness.
Simple precautions to further protect you and your baby from flu.
As well as getting a flu shot there are some simple things that everyone can do to prevent getting flu or passing it on to others:
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, use disposable tissues, and dispose of tissues immediately after use.
- Wash your hands regularly, especially after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
- Keep away from people you know are sick with flu. Make sure your family and friends know not to visit if they are unwell.
- Avoid crowded places where there may be other people sick with flu.
Because babies younger than 6 months are too young to receive the vaccine, it is recommended that everyone who cares for your baby get a flu shot too, including other household members and relatives. Be aware that the flu shot may not be free for other people and that it takes at least two weeks to provide protection.
For further information see the links in the Additional resources section or contact your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.
HealthDirect can also provide practical health information and advice. Call 1800 022 222.