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Pregnancy & the Flu

Pregnancy & the Flu

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I am currently 20 weeks pregnant and enjoy reading your pregnancy calendar articles every week to track my baby’s progress. I love your no BS sense of humor and bluntness in the articles. This week I have been faced with the great debate of the Flu Shot. I normally do get the flu shot except for maybe the few years I have forgotten. I have been asking my family and friends on whether it is safe and smart to get the flu shot while pregnant or if I should just skip it. I am finding that now a days a lot of people “don’t believe in” the flu shot. One of those people being my husband. Coming from a family that generally got out flu shots every year due to the “better be safe than sorry rule”, it’s a little unsettling to think this might always be a debate in my own household. I didn’t get the flu shot last year and got a terrible bout of the flu as a consequence. I have also read that chances of hospitalization, extreme dehydration and pregnancy complications go up a lot if you catch the flu while pregnant. Is it all just a bunch of scare tactics or is the flu shot a good health investment in general?

Sincerely,
Mom Against the Flu

Okay, so USUALLY I stay far, far away from any and all questions that veer anywhere close to area of “medical advice.” Because that is not advice that I am qualified to give, at all, entertainment purposes only blah blah disclaimer disclaimer disclaimer-cakes.

But.

The American Pregnancy Association wants you to get a flu shot. The Mayo Clinic wants you to get a flu shot. The CDC (which I know is probably no one’s favorite or most trusted agency at this point) wants you to get a flu shot.

Please get a flu shot.

Look, I know there are naysayers about every and all types of vaccines, and bitter disagreement about the timing and safety of said vaccines. You’ve already talked to some of them, it sounds like.

Now you’re talking to me, and I say: Please get a flu shot.

I don’t give a crap about whether or not someone “believes” in a specific vaccine or not. We’re not talking about Santa Claus or unicorns here. Anyone who continues to underestimate the safety and strength we all gain from vaccines is clearly not paying attention to the fact that whooping cough and measles are coming back and harming innocent, vulnerable people: newborns, babies, the immunocompromised, pregnant women.

“Oh, come on. We’re just talking about the flu! So it sucks for awhile but then you’re fine! It’s not like the damn polio vaccine!”

Yes, there’s a difference between the flu shot and the MMR or something, but for a pregnant woman, the flu DOES pose a bigger risk than for the non-pregnant among us. And it’s a risk you can mitigate with a flu shot.

I was never a huge “omg I gotta go get a flu shot” person. I got one in college and felt sick and crappy afterwards (probably with that patented college blend of COLD + HANGOVER + BEING A HUGE BABY) but of course convinced myself that the shot was to blame and that it “gave me the flu” and I swore off the shot for years. I never got the flu, ergo, I was right and the flu vaccine was a crock of useless crap.

Once I started having children, though, I got over myself and obeyed my doctors’ recommendation that everyone in our household get the flu shot for the safety of the baby. My first two pregnancies managed to begin and end outside of peak flu season, however, so I never had to really deal with the decision to get the shot while pregnant. I’d either get the shot before I was pregnant or not long after giving birth.

And then there was my third pregnancy. Which began right as the flu shot clinic signs started going up. And yet for some reason I kept putting off getting a shot, thinking I’d get it from my OB’s office and then forgetting to ask for it, while my husband took the older kids to get their shots (and his), while I probably hung out on the bathroom floor trying not to barf. At some point I said, screw it, the rest of my family is vaccinated and I work from home and never go anywhere; I’LL BE FINE.

Yeah, I got the flu while pregnant.

It. Was. Awful. I was so sick, for so long. And it was terrifying, because I just couldn’t get better and couldn’t stop wondering what the hell have I done to my baby?

I consider myself, very, very lucky that I wasn’t hospitalized. I was very close, due to dehydration and fever. I consider myself lucky that my pregnancy continued safely and that Ike did not suffer any obvious complications.

I also consider myself very, very stupid for not just getting that stupid shot in the first place.

Here’s where I get brutally honest: During my illness, I brilliantly happened to Google a few studies that linked flu during a mother’s pregnancy to adult-onset schizophrenia. I just. Oh my God. I can’t even read about it. I just keep foolishly hoping that the link will be disproven or downplayed at some point.  The fear and guilt I feel when even thinking about that is infinitely worse than any of the fear/nervousness I might have had about getting a vaccine while pregnant.

Why didn’t I get the shot? I don’t know. Because I thought the flu wasn’t a big deal. Because I thought I was the sort of person who never got the flu. Because I never thought getting the flu while pregnant would happen to me, until it did.

Please get a flu shot.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • LH

    Thank you, Amy, for being an advocate for protecting those who are so vulnerable.  Please add me to the pro-vaccine campaign.  While i think guilt is an inevitable part of parenthood, we should also recognize our own strengths.  You are using your excellent way with words to spread a good message here.

    OP, take your husband with you for your next OB appointment.  Or even call the office and speak with the nurse.  It’s their job to help your husband understand the risks and benefits.

  • Erin

    Also, according to the CDC: You getting the flu shot passes on antibodies to your unborn baby that help protect the baby after he or she is born (which is important, since the baby can’t get the flu shot for 6 months). http://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/pregnant/flushot_pregnant_factsheet.pdf 

    • Lindsay

      And, if I’m not mistaken (too lazy to Google), the same goes for the whooping cough vaccine. My doctor advised me to get another one while I was pregnant (even though I’d had one 2 years earlier) primarily for the benefit of the kid.

      Get a flu shot! Definitely!
      And ask your doctor about the whooping cough one as well. Any sort of resistance you can pass onto your baby before he/she is born is a VERY good thing.

      • Christine

        Yes, both pass on magical anti-bodies!  This is why ACOG now recommends giving the Tdap to women around 36 weeks.  There really have been deaths due to pertussis, and the infants are by far the most as risk.  And they are NOT as rare as you think (speaking as a pediatric ICU doctor, the one who is there trying to save the babies, it is absolutely heart breaking)

        This is a great read for those that are reluctant to get the flu shot.
        http://coldflu.about.com/od/fluvaccinequestions/f/illafterflushot.htm

        • Kim too

          Not to mention, pertussis deaths in infants?  Do not look it up. Suffice to say that it is not pleasant, and not something any infant should experience.  Vaccinate, please.

  • Tracey

    Like yours, my husband does not believe in getting flu shots. I take my kids and myself for them anyway. I got it (flu shot) while I was pregnant, my perinatologist advised it. Good thing too, because we went to my IL’s for Thanksgiving that year, arrived at their house having driven several hours to find my MIL down with the flu. They didn’t even tell us she was sick before we left! (They don’t believe in the flu shot either…)

    It’s something that I can do to keep myself and my kids healthy. Honestly, if I get sick, it’s really difficult, my husband’s job requires him to BE THERE, and I don’t have extended family living anywhere nearby to call on for help. And I wouldn’t want my kids suffering through it either, when they don’t have to. (Hopefully). We still get our share of coughs and colds, those are bad enough.

    I know it’s a pain when your spouse disagrees on such things, but there is nothing to stop you from getting your flu shot. I’m sure your doctor would recommend it. Best of luck!

  • MR

    My husband and I used to both be on the fence about the flu shot, both preferring not to get it. And then I had a year where, I got the flu, gave it to him, and then I got it back from him. The second bout of flu in less than two weeks wrecked me, and I ended up quickly dehydrated. My veins were collapsed, and it was soooo painful as they kept trying to get an IV in, and I felt really, really awful. NEVER will I risk that again. I literally still have the scars from that. So, after that, he was still “eh” about the shot, but I have had one every year since and never been that sick since. And, when we had babies… Things change. It is one thing when you say you aren’t going to get a flu shot and it is just you who would be affected. It is completely another thing when you look at your tiny little baby and realize putting up with one stupid shot could save your baby’s life. So we both get the shot.

  • Amie

    1,000 times yes. Please get the flu shot. From what I’ve read, we’re just beginning to understand the impact of exposure to fever and viruses in the womb on fetal development, and none of it sounds good.
    I have had to drag my husband kicking and screaming to get his the past couple of years. Our older daughter got her first dose at 9 months, but before she could get the second dose for babies, she caught the flu. It was a fairly mild case, but she was miserable for days, and fell off the bottom of the growth chart. It took months for her to gain that weight back. I only had to ask him once this year, he understands now why it’s so important. And now we have a 4 month old, and we’re all about to get our shots again this year because she’s too young to get one and anything we can do to protect her from going through that, I will.

    While you’re at it, get a Pertussis or TDAP vaccine too 🙂 They recommend you get that one in the third trimester.

  • Stephanie

    Thank you, Amy. I never got the flu shot before I had kids, but I’ve gotten one (and so has my husband) each year since. 

    I was at the doctor’s this week for a persistent cough and the doctor said that while i was there I should just get the shot. They have a daily clinic from 9-5 and it’s free. Took about two minutes. Now I just need to get my girls over there.

    And Amie above, thanks for the reminder on TDAP. They recommend it each time you’re pregnant now to give immunities to your baby. Whooping cough is deadly if an infant gets it and they’re often too young to be vaccinated.

  • leslie

    Get it. Most of my life I didn’t get the flu shot (except when I worked at a nursing home or traveled internationally) and I’ve only had the flu once. I’m pretty healthy all around, but all bets are off when it comes to getting the flu while pregnant. Your immune system is compromised anyway and the flu in quite dangerous for pregnant women and their babies. I’m 38 weeks and had mine a couple of months ago. Flu season is only starting, but you still get exposed to it at all times of the year. I’m actually getting over a bad cold (brought home from daycare by my toddler!)  that settled in my lungs and am hacking a lot. Our decreased lung capacity while pregnant (cuz everything is getting smooshed in there) means they keep a close eye on me in case it turns worse. While it’s not the flu, the same issues of lung capacity apply. 

  • Mary

    I just gave birth on Sunday and got the flu shot at the hospital afterward. I would have gotten it sooner but I got a bad cold when I was 36 weeks pregnant that lasted for 3 weeks so I had to wait. But just thinking about how miserable I was with just a cold, I would definitely want to avoid the flu!

  • IrishCream

    I get flu shots every year, religiously, and make sure my husband and kids get them too. It’s good for our family, and it’s good for the community. I don’t want to be the person who infects a tiny baby or a fragile senior.

    I’m sure you’re doing a lot of things to protect your baby already, like eating well and going to the OB and all that jazz. This is no different.

  • Marissa

    It’s easy, too! Any walk-in clinic (e.g. CVS Minute Clinic or Target Clinic) will be able to vaccinate you (as well as any kids over the age of 18 months). Such a quick and easy thing to do; such an important safeguard.

  • Cobwebs

    Thank you, Amy. I’m sure you’ll get at least a few negative comments from people who have bought into a lot of discredited research (and are, not coincidentally, too young to have grown up with playmates crippled from polio). Vaccines should rank well above flying cars as one of the wonders of the modern age.

  • AC

    I no longer have the internal back-and-forth about whether or not I should get the flu shot because I work for an organization where you get terminated if you don’t get the flu shot by a certain date. Yes, terminated. So, obviously, I get the flu shot. As a onetime skeptic I must admit it the flu shot is amazing and has helped me avoid awful illness as it was spread around my family. Also, it is worth reading Frank Bruni’s op-ed in the NY Times this week titled, “Scarier Than Ebola.”

  • Jeannie

    I was pregnant in 2009-2010, the dreaded “swine flu” year. The year that pregnant women were hospitalized because of that flu. My first kid was in daycare, AKA germ cesspool. I got the flu shot. I was nervous about it, but it was worth it for peace of mind and my now 4.5 year old is totally and utterly fine (of course. Because the flu shot doesn’t hurt the fetus and never has been shown to, but of course I worried. 

    I won’t tell you to get it, but I will tell you I did, and it was a good idea. 

  • Melinda

    Anyone who says they got the flu from the flu shot: That’s literally impossible. It’s not a live vaccine. It does, however, take 10 days for the full effect. 

    If you had a flu shot and then got the flu, you either

    A. Got some weird mutated flu that wasn’t covered by the flu shot

    B. Didn’t have the flu. Not every illness is the flu. You could’ve just been sick

    C. Got the shot too late and weren’t covered when you came in contact with a contagion. 

    • IrishCream

      I got a flu shot and then got the flu last year–they’re not perfect, and the vaccine doesn’t cover every possible strain of the virus. But my doctor said I had a milder case because I had gotten the shot. It does boost your ability to fight off the virus, even if you’re not 100% protected. 

  • S

    Wheee! So many happily vaccinated! YESSSS!! Get the shot. Happiest surprise we got when our family went in for flu shots this year – the kids just got nasal spray!

  • Leslie

    Do I trust vaccine manufacturers? Nope. Do I take an exponentially more serious risk by getting in my car and driving somewhere every day? Yep. That’s how I look at it. It’d be lovely not to need shots, but I don’t want to be sick or make someone else sick just because I’m getting freaked about such a tiny potential risk when I take far more serious and real ones daily.

  • April_S

    Ask for a preservative free one. It gave me more peace of mind. I got that one while breastfeeding too. It’s packaged as a single dose rather than multi, it’s not advertised, and it might be more expensive depending on insurance. My local drugstore had it in stock recently.

    • Kate

      Any reputable place will only give you the preservative free one while you’re pregnant if you tell them that you’re pregnant and you will be telling them because it’s one of the questions on the consent form. Not to say that you shouldn’t make a point of telling them that’s what you want anyway but it should be the default since that’s the CDC rules.

  • JasGal

    I used to know more people who got the flu “from getting the flu shot” – – I qualified that with that I had only known a few people to actually get the flu and odds are good they got it from the germy offices or didn’t realize they were already sick (in other words, not from the shot but sometimes events connect like that). Never really felt a need to get one myself although my children always were. Just doesn’t register as a must do thing. My last pregnancy, about 20 weeks, my sister gave us all the flu for Christmas. I was sick for 3 weeks. Beyond sucky. Go ahead and get that shot!

  • I never bothered getting a flu shot until I started infertility treatments. Normally, I’d feel crappy the evening of getting the shot, but would feel fine the next morning. In my experience, getting it at 28 weeks pregnant was definitely tougher on my body — I felt crappy for 48 hours — but it was so worth the peace of mind. You’re protected, and your baby is protected. There’s no reason not to get it — perhaps getting it on a Friday is better, if you work 😉

  • J

    I caught swine flu while pregnant in 2009 — I hadn’t had any flu vaccine at all. I collapsed, totally unconscious in public, splitting my head on concrete as I fell. The flu, the fall and the resulting head injury and fear for the baby were so much worse than a shot.

    As if that’s not bad enough, when my son was three, he caught the flu. He got bacterial pneumonia as a complication and was very, very ill. When they pull doctors out of their consultations with other patients to treat your child, alarm bells ring. 

    The flu is a nasty, nasty virus. Personally, we get them every year now. I’ve never had a problem with any side effects, but I have experienced the effects of flu.

  • Tricia

    I’m 19 weeks and just got the flu shot from my midwife’s office. They had the preservative free version in stock so I got that one. The crap that is out I to vaccines makes me nervous so we delay some and only give my kiddos max two shots at a time. It’s our compromise because we know the diseases are bad but also don’t want to overload their little system with so much! But flu shot, yes. All of us, every year.

    • Kate

      Overloading their systems was my concern as well after my son was born. I talked to the pediatrician about it and he explained that even though it’s a lot more vaccines than we got when we were kids the actual total viral load is still much smaller. I’m not suggesting you take my word for it but since it’s a concern you could look into it.

  • martha

    I don’t normally get the flu shot. Like never as a child and never as an adult. BUT I did get it when I was pregnant with my daughter, last year while I was still nursing her, and I will get it this year because I’m pregnant again. Why? Because I normally have a very healthy immune system, but being pregnant compromises your immune system and I’d rather not have the flu while pregnant and casting for a toddler. For what its worth, I’ll probably not get it as soon I’m not pregnant or breastfeeding during flu season.

  • Caroline

    Flu, or any illness that gets your fever up on any sort of prolonged basis can have very dire consequences for your baby. Given that the flu shot is routinely administered to pregnant women and has been for years with no noticeable ill effect, I’d rather take ”the risk” of that, than the far more real risk of causing damage to the baby. Very sadly, my aunt back in the early 70’s was pregnant with her 3rd baby and travelling via ship and got proper flu and the ship’s doctor was very wary of medicating her… and we’ll never know why precisely, but her daughter was brain damaged in various ways. Prolonged fever is no joke, and the consequences can’t always be seen immediately, please get your shot. Get the preservative free one, but get it. I am never, ever sick and during my 3rd pregnancy (post shot!!) I got a chest infection that felled me like a tree. Obviously it was treated, obviously we took every measure, but still, pregnant women get sick easily and with far fewer options for treatment. So for your sake and your baby’s, just have your shot.

  • Hanna

    The flu in pregnancy is a well-known risk factor (for the baby) in developing schizophrenia I adulthood. It’s not hysterical fringe googling but in textbooks and all. The main reason I got a flu shot in both my pregnancies. But don’t beat yourself up Amy, it’s not communicated well to pregnant women. Please, please get your flu shot, Mom.

  • Kimberley G

    Whether your husband believes in it or not is it even worth an internal debate? It’s offered to protect you and your baby. Anything that is for the good of your child is surely a straight up ‘yes please’. 

  • lindsay

    also, make your husband get a flu shot.  its the right hill to die on.  remind him that he would never forgive himself if he passed the flu to your newborn.  getting the flu shot will reduce the chance of this happening.  

  • Ali

    Definitely get the shot! As a mama to a newborn who will be too young for the flu shot this winter, I wish I could convince everyone who is able to get their shots….I understand the mindset of “if I get the flu, I’ll be okay”–but the same is not necessarily true for everyone else out there!!

  • Agree with all the above! Get the flu shot to protect yourself and your baby!

  • Liz

    Love hearing from so many well-informed people!  The best medical experts recommend pregnant women as one of the highest priorities for the flu vaccine. Definitely get it!!!  I’m 21 weeks pregnant and got mine….. it’s a load off my mind.  Push your husband to get it, too. Not worth running risks around a developing baby/newborn. Flu is still easy to catch in Feb/Mar when the baby arrives!

  • kimm

    Get it. My Ob is old, behind the times, and said don’t get it. But I live where a couple of deaths from swine flu began the “epidemic” and one of them was a pregnant mom. The flu shot protects against H1N1.

  • While you can’t get the flu from the flu shot, some years the strains in the vaccine do cause a stronger immune reaction and CAN leave you feeling crappy for a day or so. (The one a couple years ago was brutal- even my doctor agreed.) So it’s always a good idea to leave yourself some space to feel not 100% for a day after getting it. Which is a pain, but think of it this way: if that year’s flu shot is hardcore enough to make you feel sick for a day, the strain it’s protecting you from must be especially nasty. 

    So yes, get the flu shot. And get the Tdap when they recommend it to you. They added that recommendation because all this non-vaxxing nonsense has allowed pertussis to come back and it’s the only way to protect a baby who isn’t old enough to get the shot herself.

    • Meagan

      I wish that this response could be read and appreciated by everyone.

  • kimm

    Also if you havent, you should get the whooping cough vaccine. They say pregnant women who get that can pass their immunity on to the baby so that it has a little protection before it gets the vaccine . A lot of people are anti vaccine so there have been outbreaks of whooping cough lately.

  • Mariah

    31 weeks, due the height of flu season here. 🙂 One thing to definitely ask about: my midwives told me that I could get the flu shot from anywhere (like a CVS), but it NEEDED to NOT have thimerosol (a preservative) in it. You can specially request it without thimerosol. I’ve done absolutely no research about the effects of it, but it’s something to consider! 

  • Brandi

    Please get a flu shot. My husband has a suppressed immune system due to lupus and he can get really sick if he catches the flu. My parents also have asthma and flu can turn into pneumonia fast for them. Do it for you, for your baby, and for all the people you come in contact with every day.

  • Robin

    GET THE FLU SHOT!
    I got the flu when I was 7 weeks pregnant and I ended up hospitalized. This is NO JOKE. Get the shot! I’m sorry that your husband doesn’t “believe” in the flu shot, but the good news about science is that it is true whether someone believes it or not. Get the shot. Now. Do not wait.

  • Amanda

    I have a special needs child. She has special needs because of a virus that I contracted while pregnant. I will never, EVER take any kind of help for granted ever again. I would get 15 shots for whatever they told me to, if it meant keeping my unborn child safe. Take it from me, a virus while pregnant is no joke. 

    Get the shot. 

  • vanessa

    GET IT. get all the vaccines. people who don’t vaccinate are so selfish, arrogant and ignorant, it makes me feel ALL THE RAGE. 

    get a flu shot. every year. everyone who is not immune compromised. get your damn shots. just do it. 

  • Hi, I’m Natalie.

    “We’re not talking about Santa Claus or unicorns here.” 

    WORD.

  • Enna

    When H1N1 was going around, my sister (a doctor at an enormous hospital in Miami) saw more than 10 pregnant women die of the flu inside of just a few weeks.  Some of their babies were saved in emergency C-sections when it became clear the mother would not make it.  Some were not.

    That was an unusually harsh flu strain for pregnant women, but I think it indicates how serious the flu is when you are pregnant.

    Get the shot.

  • Annie

    I have always supported vaccines for my kids, but was never super careful about myself, thinking “oh, it’s just the flu!” Everybody gets the flu. Last year a dear friend of mine caught a very nasty strain of the flu, struggled and struggled to get better, and didn’t. She actually died of complications from getting the flu. She left behind a husband and seven year old son.

    This was a huge wake up call for me because I always thought that the flu wasn’t so big a deal. And there are hospitals and things and modern medicine and we’re all fine if we get sick! And most of the time we all are. But even with all the technology we have, there are still some super nasty illnesses around.

  • groovymumma

    Great question! I discussed this with my OB last time I was pregnant. She was also a midwife, so not one for over-medicalising, but she basically said, you might well be fine if you don’t get it, but you may be the one who isn’t, and loses a pregnancy, and you don’t want to be in that place. It felt like she was talking about an experience she had had with another patient (don’t know this for sure, just how it felt). I got the shot, and all was fine.

  • Bethany

    When you vaccinate, it’s not just yourself you’re protecting. It’s the cashier at the grocery store whose baby has a heart condition. It’s the kid at the playground who will be diagnosed with stage four cancer next week. It’s the elderly lady at church who greets people at the door. It’s selfish NOT to vaccinate.

    My toddler and I got the flu shot (still working on my husband!), and we got it for Matthew, Gracie, and Adeline, three kids at our church who are facing serious health challenges.

  • Moma

    I come from a family that has adverse reactions to vaccines. The Hep B shot almost killed my baby. God is goods. I reacted to the last flu shot (I saw stars for 4 days when getting up quickly and my right eye has blurred vision, I had achyness and numbness(in arm that receives the shot) for 4 Dayan. I still get it for my baby. I am delaying my daughters vaccines due to the episode/family history of bizarre adverse reactions and will be conservative. Please vaccinate for those who cannot.

  • Moma

    Sorry about my typos