A Flu Vaccine Protects Mom, Fetus, and Infant

Updated January 28, 2020
Woman getting bandaid placed after flu vaccination

If you’re already pregnant or plan to be, it’s important to get a flu vaccine every year. Geeta Swamy, MD, a Duke perinatologist, said the annual immunization offers three layers of protection for you and your baby during flu season, which typically lasts from October through April.

Protecting Your Child

Along with keeping you healthy, a flu vaccine protects the fetus, which could be at risk for preterm delivery and low birth weight if you were to get sick. An immunization also allows your newborn to stay safe until they’re old enough to be vaccinated at six months.

Pregnant women who get a flu vaccine aren’t exposing their fetus to the infection -- they’re actually transferring antibodies against the flu to their unborn baby. This reduces the infant’s risk of contracting the flu.

Avoid Long-Term Complications

“Babies who are exposed to influenza during the mother’s pregnancy may suffer from long-term implications,” explained Dr. Swamy, a nationally recognized expert on immunizations during pregnancy. “Even if mom is fine, there is evidence that suggests influenza exposure can lead to medical problems that include psychiatric disorders in the baby’s future.”

Pregnant women aren’t at higher risk for getting the flu, but they are more likely to suffer serious complications because of it. Dr. Swamy said that pregnant women are at higher risk to be hospitalized and have higher rates of pneumonia and respiratory complications because of the flu. The risks to an unborn child are just as severe.

Stay Safe, Healthy

Since no immunization is perfect, pregnant women who’ve been vaccinated against the flu should still take precautions. If you think you’ve been exposed to the flu, your doctor can offer prophylactic treatment with anti-viral medications. If you experience flu-like symptoms, including severe headache, fatigue, fever and body aches, call your doctor. You can also visit a Duke Urgent Care location or virtually connect with an on-call doctor with Duke Health Anywhere.

“It’s best to be treated in the first 48 hours,” said Dr. Swamy. “Along with a flu vaccine, it’s the best line of defense to protect you and your child.”

Geeta Swamy, MD, is a perinatologist at Duke.

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