Getting the flu is bad enough, but getting the flu while you’re pregnant can be a nightmare. There is a greater chance that you will stay sick longer, there are only have a few medications that you can take to safely relieve flu symptoms, and your risk for developing flu-related complications is increased. That’s why the best thing for pregnant women to do during flu season is to take all possible precautions to avoid the virus, including getting a flu shot.
Influenza, or the flu, is a very contagious virus that affects the upper respiratory system causing fever, muscle aches, cough, sore throat, runny nose and weakness. The flu usually makes its appearance in winter and early spring, but it can also strike in the fall and late spring as well. While the virus is a nasty thing for anyone to catch, with pregnancy and the flu it can be particularly risky because a woman’s immune system has weakened slightly during the pregnancy. Because of this, pregnant women are more likely to experience symptoms for a longer period of time, and their risk of developing complications, such as pneumonia, is increased. Studies have shown, however, that pregnancy and the flu poses little risk to an unborn child, except for with a high, untreated fever which have been linked to birth defects.
Can I get the Flu Shot while pregnant?
Yes, not only is the flu shot safe for pregnant women, the best way to avoid the flu is to get a flu shot. Flu shots are recommended for nearly all pregnant women and are usually given in October or November right before flu season starts. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself from the virus and can save you a lot of discomfort during the flu season. A 2018 study showed that pregnant women who received a flu shot reduced the risk of hospitalization with the flu by 40%.
How can I prevent getting the flu?
Other ways to avoid combining pregnancy and the flu include:
Frequent hand washing
This is one of the most important things you can do for yourself to avoid illness. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after meals, after using the bathroom and frequently throughout the day. Washing your hands with antibacterial soap to get rid of germs is one of the easiest ways to stay healthy.
Stay away from people who have colds or the flu
Common sense should tell you to avoid people who are already sick. Coming into contact with contagious individuals is an easy way to get sick yourself, so if possible, just avoid sick people until they are no longer contagious. This may be trickier than it seems. Check with family members before attending holiday functions and make sure you use a gentle hand sanitizer or wash hands frequently when you’re in a place with a lot of people such as a store, mall, and even your doctor’s office.
Avoid touching your face
Keeping your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes: Germs like to come in through these particular places, so try not to touch them. If you have to cough, cough into your elbow.
What if I get the flu while pregnant?
Flu symptoms include:
- Fever (temperature higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit taken orally)
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Muslce or Body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
If you are unfortunate enough to get the flu, there are a few things that you can do to ease the symptoms and recover faster. Remember though, with pregnancy and the flu, there are many medications that you cannot take because they could be harmful to you or your baby. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any medicine to treat your flu symptoms. The following treatments can help if you come down with the flu:
- Tylenol®/Acetaminophen for fever, aches, and pains
- Chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine
- Honey or other natural ingredient lozenges for a sore throat
- Lots of rest
- Increased fluid intake, especially water and tea
- Take an antiviral drug, such as oseltamivir, prescribed by a doctor
When to seek emergency medical care when pregnant with the flu
If you are pregnant and experience the symptoms below, call 911:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse
- Not urinating
- Severe muscle pain
- Severe weakness or unsteadiness
- Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
- High fever that is not responding to Tylenol® (or store brand equivalent acetaminophen)
- Decreased or no movement of your baby
Getting the flu is no fun. Getting the flu while you’re pregnant is REALLY no fun. Pregnancy and the flu just don’t mix, so do yourself a favor by getting a flu shot and taking preventative measures to avoid the virus.