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Why the flu can be serious for your developing baby

You’re probably feeling happy and excited about your pregnancy, yet also vulnerable, even a little scared. You’re anxious to ensure your pregnancy runs smoothly – especially during the winter flu season. After all, the flu is a serious illness. So, let’s explore why you should and how you can protect your developing child from the flu.

The flu can be serious for your baby

When you’re pregnant, your body naturally weakens your immune system to ensure your pregnancy is successful (1). But your weakened immune system, along with changes in your heart and lungs during pregnancy (2), mean you’re more likely to catch the flu (2).

If you do catch the flu while you’re pregnant, your unborn baby can catch the infection from you (1). The flu can be serious for them (2): fever, a common symptom of the flu, could affect your baby’s development (2). Your baby catching the flu from you could result in them being born prematurely or having a lower birth weight (1), and may even result in a miscarriage (4) or stillbirth (1).

You’re at greater risk of severe flu

Pregnant women who get flu are more prone to developing serious illness from the flu, including being hospitalised (2). Changes to your body during pregnancy also mean you’re less able to fight infections (1) and, if you’re unfortunate enough to catch the virus, you’re more likely to develop complications (1), though these are rare.  

Bronchitis is one of the most common complications of the flu. It can become serious and develop into pneumonia (1). Other possible pregnancy flu complications include difficulty breathing and dehydration (3). If you’re ever in doubt about any symptoms, consult your midwife or doctor. If you experience difficulties breathing, call your doctor (3).

To reduce any risk of you catching the flu and passing it onto your baby or spreading it to others, you should always (1):

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces regularly to get rid of germs.
  • Use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put used tissues in a bin as soon as possible.

 

Managing the flu when you’re pregnant

The flu is always unpleasant, but most pregnant women will only have relatively mild symptoms with the flu, including a fever and two or more of (3):

  • a headache
  • a runny nose
  • a sore throat
  • unusual tiredness
  • shortness of breath or a cough
  • loss of appetite
  • aching muscles
  • diarrhoea or vomiting.

 

There are some things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms (3):

  • Use cold flannels to lower your temperature.
  • Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Try to eat little and often to keep your energy up.
  • A hot water bottle or wheat heat-pack may help.

 

Always check with the pharmacist whether flu medications are suitable for use in pregnancy.

How to protect your baby from the flu

Getting vaccinated is the best way to avoid getting the flu (1), whatever the stage of your pregnancy. It can reduce the risk of serious complications, particularly in the later stages (4).

Both you and your developing – and indeed newborn – baby would benefit from flu prevention. A flu vaccine is important because it will do more than reduce the chance of you catching the flu and passing the flu to your unborn baby (4). Vaccination will also help protect your baby from the flu during the first months of their life (3), which is important since babies under six months are too young to get a flu vaccine (5).

But how? Simply by you passing antibodies onto your developing baby during your pregnancy (2).  Then, once your baby has been born, you also pass antibodies through your breast milk if you breastfeed your infant (5), giving them some immunity from the flu. It takes about two weeks for your body to make antibodies after getting a flu vaccine (5).

Protect you and your unborn – or even newborn – baby. Get your flu vaccine.


Sources
(1) https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/pregnancy/why-are-pregnant-women-at-higher-risk-of-flu-complications/
(2) https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/pregnant.htm
(3) https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/worries-and-discomforts/symptoms-watch-out-for/flu-and-pregnancy
(4) https://campaignstorage.blob.core.windows.net/[…]WEB_.pdf
(5) https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/pregnant/flushot_pregnant_factsheet.pdf

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