If you are pregnant, you have undoubtedly tried to do everything right by your future bundle of joy. You take your vitamins and you try to take things easy. You avoid caffeine and alcohol. You even declined the tempting invitation to that sushi dinner night out with your friends last week.

After being instructed not to ingest certain foods or take certain medications, it is a natural reaction to question the safety of having an influenza vaccine injected into your body. By opting out of this important immunization, however, you could be placing the well-being of you and your unborn baby in jeopardy.

Assessing Your Risk

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women are considered one of the high risk groups for becoming severely ill from influenza. Your body is experiencing a number of changes in preparation for growing and delivering a healthy baby, and your immune system may be diminished. This increases your susceptibility to contracting the flu virus, and the illness can pose serious effects on your health, such as life-threatening pneumonia, and on that of your unborn baby, such as birth defects and premature labor and delivery.

Protect Your Baby

Your newborn baby continues to benefit from the protective antibodies that you passed on to your fetus. By receiving a flu vaccine during pregnancy, you are protecting your baby as well as yourself. Prior to six months of age, a baby’s immune system is not adequately developed to launch an effective immune response to the flu vaccine or to the virus itself. For this reason, it is essential that all family members and caregivers receive the flu vaccine as well. Once your baby reaches six months of age, he or she can receive the flu vaccine directly.

Which Vaccine Is Right for You?

The CDC and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that all pregnant women receive the flu vaccine. There are two types of flu vaccines. One is the injectable form, which is formulated with inactivated, or killed, virus. The second one is an intranasal mist, which is formulated with attenuated, or weakened live, virus. These guidelines set forth by the CDC determine which flu vaccine you should receive:

  • Women who are about to become pregnant should receive the injectable flu vaccine.
  • Women who are currently pregnant, regardless of trimester, should receive the injectable flu vaccine.
  • Women who are not pregnant but are currently breastfeeding their infant may receive either the injectable or the intranasal flu vaccine. The intranasal vaccine is not recommended for women while they are pregnant.

Keep in mind that your body takes approximately two weeks after vaccination to build up the antibodies that will combat influenza. Ideally, you should receive the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available in the late summer or early fall, but it is safe and effective to administer at any point during the flu season.

Points to Consider When Thinking About Taking a Vaccine

To date, millions of pregnant women have been inoculated with the influenza vaccine and it is considered safe to do so. While many pregnant women have voiced concerns about thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that is added to vials that contain multiple doses of the vaccine, the amount of thimerosal contained in the vial is nominal. Studies have shown the amount to be harmless. However, you may request a thimerosal-free vaccine. Some other points to keep in mind include the following:

  • Alert your healthcare provider if you have experienced a severe allergic reaction in the past to any of the components contained in a flu vaccine.
  • If you currently have a fever or symptoms of a cold or the flu, hold off on getting vaccinated until the illness has cleared up.
  • Understand that flu vaccines do not cause the flu. You may experience mild side effects during the first couple of days following vaccination, such as fever, aches and fatigue, but these symptoms are mild and are no different than those experienced by anyone else who has been inoculated.

Annually, the influenza virus results in thousands of hospitalizations and even death. The benefits of inoculation with the flu vaccine outweigh the risks of infection. To ensure that you are taking every precautionary step to keep your unborn baby as healthy as possible, get your flu vaccine as soon as possible.