If you've been following the news (or walked outside to all those sniffling, coughing people), you know it's been a pretty devastating flu season. For pregnant women and moms, catching influenza can be especially crippling. It can bring your busy Mom-schedule to a standstill, or in worst-case scenarios -- lead to hospitalizations, premature labor, and even fatalities. But of course, knowledge is power. And there are many simple ways to help diminish your chances of catching the dreaded flu.
First, what's the deal with the flu this season?
Here's the low-down. Remember in 2013-2014 when the H1N1 virus emerged as a pandemic? Well this year it's back as the most predominant strain.
How does the flu affect pregnant women?While the CDC said most people will experience mild flu symptoms, those who are more at risk are pregnant women, young children, and the elderly. According to the CDC:
"Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women more prone to severe illness from flu as well as hospitalizations and even death."
Influenza in pregnant moms can also lead to a greater chance of premature labor and delivery.
Can pregnant women get the flu shot?
Expecting mothers are indeed able -- and encouraged -- to get an influenza shot during pregnancy. The flu shot can help aid Mama's health, as well as her babe's! The CDC recommends pregnant women get their shots during the typical flu season, which begins early October through late March.
A flu shot during pregnancy serves two purposes: It can help protect you against getting the flu (or from developing serious complications if you do end up contracting the virus) and it can actually help protect your baby after she is born, Dr. Watkins says.
“The flu vaccine is very safe,” he says. “Getting the flu, especially while pregnant, is not.”
Keep in mind that the CDC only recommends that pregnant women get the flu shot, not the nasal spray, the latter of which contains a live, attenuated (i.e. weakened) vaccine.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a flu shot during pregnancy can help:
Prevent the flu and maternal complications. Pregnancy puts extra stress on your heart and lungs. Pregnancy can also affect your immune system. These factors increase the risk of becoming severely ill due to the flu.
Prevent potential pregnancy problems due to the flu. Flu during pregnancy seems to increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight.
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 six months old. If you have a flu shot during pregnancy, however, the antibodies you develop will pass through the placenta to help protect your baby from the flu. In a 2011 study, babies whose mothers had a flu shot during pregnancy were nearly 50 percent less likely to be hospitalized with the flu during their first flu season than were babies of unvaccinated mothers.
Aside from the flu shot, what else can an expecting mom do to decrease my chances of getting sick?Make these everyday precautions part of your routine, and you can lower your risk of getting influenza. You probably know the drill by heart, but here it is again:
- Wash those hands! This is probably the easiest thing to do; however, it can be hard to establish good hand-washing habits. Remember to wet, lather and scrub for at least 20 seconds. A good timer is to sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself TWICE.
- Avoid touching your face. Germs spread easily by touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Practice healthy habits. Get regular sleep, exercise and chow down on healthy food. Drink plenty of water as well.