Influenza (the flu) is much more than just a sore throat or a runny nose. It is actually a serious disease that can make you very sick, and it can be very harmful if you get it during or right after pregnancy.
How do you get the flu?
Unfortunately, the flu spreads easily from person to person. When someone who has the flu sneezes, coughs, or even speaks, it passes through the air you breathe. You can also become infected if you touch something that has the flu virus on it and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. It is very important that you wash your hands often during flu season, especially if you are pregnant.
How can it hurt your pregnancy?
Complications from the flu, particularly pneumonia, can be quite serious and even deadly, especially if you are pregnant. If you contract the flu during pregnancy, you are more likely to experience serious complications, which is why you should be sure to get a flu shot before you conceive.
If you get the flu while you are pregnant, your odds of preterm labor or premature birth are increased. It is considered preterm labor or premature birth, if it occurs at 37 weeks or less gestation. Just having a fever from the flu can cause your baby to have birth defects or other problems. Birth defects can cause problems with how your baby develops and their general health.
What if you didn’t get vaccinated before pregnancy?
The flu shot cannot cause the flu, so it is safe to get it during pregnancy, preferably before flu season begins, however, you can get it anytime during pregnancy, and it will still be effective.
Allergic to eggs? No problem. There are vaccines available now that do not contain any eggs.
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Because there are many different flu viruses that are always changing, protection from any flu shot only lasts a year. Each year a new vaccine is made based on the viruses that are most likely to make people sick, so it is important to get a flu vaccine every year. While you can get the vaccine from your primary care physician, it is also available at most drug stores and some places of employment.
How do you know if you have the flu?
The most common signs and symptoms of the flu are:
- Sore throat or cough.
- Stuffy or runny nose.
- Muscle aches and pains.
- Extreme fatigue.
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
Pregnant women and those who have recently given birth, can be sick from the flu for a long time. Be sure to contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing.
- Chest or belly pressure or pain.
- Severe or persistent vomiting.
- Sudden dizziness.
- A high fever that doesn’t respond to Tylenol.
- Symptoms that get better, but then come back with a worse cough and a fever.
- Less or no movement from your baby.
Why is the flu so harmful during pregnancy?
Pregnancy affects your immune system. Your immune system’s job is to protect you from disease and illness. When your body senses an intruder, like a virus, it works hard to rid your body of it.
When you are pregnant, however, your immune system is already compromised, so that your body does not reject your baby. A lowered immune system means you can catch viruses like the flu much easier.
Your lungs need more oxygen during pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimester, which is another reason why the flu can be so harmful during pregnancy. As your torso expands, it puts pressure on your lungs, making them work harder. Some shortness of breath at times is not unusual. Your heart is also working harder to supply blood to both you and your baby.
All of this adds up to more stress on your body, which can make you more likely to get the flu. You are more likely than other women to contract the flu if you are pregnant or just gave birth within the past two weeks of coming in contact with the virus.
A flu shot either before or during pregnancy will protect both you and your baby from harm. The vaccination will also protect your baby during the first few months of life until he or she is old enough to get his or her own vaccinations.