Flu Shots: Good for Mom and Baby

2/20/2014

For many years, the common advice for pregnant women was to rest and eat right. Now, getting a flu shot has been added to the list. While it’s not a new recommendation, studies are showing that pregnant women aren’t heeding the advice, so obstetricians are emphasizing the need for women to protect themselves, and their unborn babies, by getting a flu shot.

Pregnant women who received a flu shot reduced the chance of their baby contracting a respiratory illness with fever by almost 30%. Because the flu shot is not recommended for newborns under six months of age, a new mother can protect their baby from the flu by getting a flu shot while pregnant. In fact, statistics show that four million babies born in the United States each year could receive passive immunity from their mothers, if the mothers would get the flu shot.

Women who are pregnant know more about the harmful effects of caffeine than the dangers of getting the flu, according to a new study, even though the flu causes more serious complications than caffeine during a pregnancy. A recent study revealed only 20% of pregnant women plan to get a flu shot this season, according to the National Women’s Health Resource Center.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend that all women who are pregnant during the flu season get the flu shot. “Pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized from complications of the flu, especially during their third trimester, than non-pregnant women of the same age,” said Ben Darby, MD, ob/gyn with OBG-1 of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital. “They don’t have the ability to fight off the virus, and it could lead to dehydration, pneumonia, and in rare cases, death.”

In a separate study to test the benefits of the flu vaccine on newborns, over 300 pregnant women in Bangladesh were involved in a voluntary test. Half received the standard flu shot during their third trimester, the other half did not. After the women gave birth, their weekly visits to clinics were monitored. Sixteen babies contracted the flu out of the group who did not receive a flu shot. In the group receiving the flu shot, six babies caught the flu. “While we wish no one would have contracted the flu, the odds are in your favor that you and your baby will be healthy if you get the flu shot,” said Dr. Darby. The risk of flu was lowered by 63%, while the risk of respiratory illness was lowered by 29%.

Pregnant women are considered a high-risk group; therefore, they are at the top of the list when it comes to flu shot recommendations.

Flu shot recommendations for pregnant women have been in place since 1997, but the advice has been ignored for the most part. “The new findings about how it helps newborns may catch attention and encourage mothers to do it for their baby’s health. If so, they’ll be doing themselves a favor also,” said Dr. Darby.

Flu season is usually between November and March each year. About 5% - 20% of Americans get the flu every year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications and about 36,000 people die from it. Much of the discomfort and sickness could be eliminated if more people would get a flu shot. Pregnant women should check with their obstetrician for more information.

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