Having the flu while pregnant may cause a high fever and defects in baby’s brain and spinal cord development.
The flu can have extremely serious consequences during pregnancy. Getting the flu shot while you’re pregnant will help protect you and even help your baby fight off the flu after birth.
Serious complications from the flu are more likely while you’re pregnant because of changes to your immune system, lungs and heart.
“When you’re pregnant, you’re much more likely to be hospitalized if you get the flu,” said Jared Bolton, M.D., OB/GYN, Norton Women’s Specialists. “We unfortunately have many pregnant women who need a stay in the intensive care unit due to complications including pneumonia, which causes severe lung problems.”
In addition, a pregnant woman’s high fever from the flu may put a baby at risk for neural tube defects that affect the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the baby’s development. Pregnant women with the flu are more likely to go into preterm labor or give birth prematurely, according to Dr. Bolton.
Getting a flu shot while pregnant protects you and your baby
“The most important thing you can do is get a flu shot,” Dr. Bolton said. “In addition to reducing the risk of getting the flu or developing severe complications, the flu shot can help protect your baby since you’ll pass antibodies on during pregnancy as well as afterward through breastfeeding.
“Children cannot get the flu shot until they’re 6 months old, so this added protection is important during the early months.”
You also want to make sure you wash your hands frequently, especially before you eat or prepare food.
“Flu germs live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours,” Dr. Bolton said. “Washing well with soap and water is an important preventive measure.”
What to do if you get the flu
Dr. Bolton offers these tips if you think you have the flu while pregnant:
- Call your OB/GYN to discuss antiviral drugs. These should be started within two days of developing symptoms.
- Take acetaminophen right away to reduce fever: Keeping fever down helps prevent problems for your baby.
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself from getting dehydrated. Your growing baby also needs plenty of fluids. Water is the best option.
Pregnant or planning?
Include the expertise of Norton Women’s Care and Norton Children’s in your birth plan.
Related: Learn the symptoms of flu versus a cold.
“If you’re pregnant and you have the flu, it can become an emergency quickly,” Dr. Bolton said.
Go to an emergency room immediately if you experience:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough