This article appeared in the New York Times, Parenting. Read the full story here.
- Pregnancy weakens a woman’s immune system, making her particularly vulnerable to severe illness, hospitalization and death from certain types of infections, especially influenza.
- Vaccinations can protect both mother and baby during the pregnancy, and for several months after.
- Experts recommend that pregnant women get the flu shot at any point during their pregnancies, and the Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks gestation (though you can receive it at other times, too). Both are safe and effective.
- Vaccines which contain live viruses, such as the nasal spray flu vaccine, are not recommended during pregnancy.
After learning she was pregnant with twins in the fall of 2009, Genevieve Holmes got a flu shot as soon as one became available; but it was too late. “I was exposed to flu before I got my immunization and was sick enough to remember thinking that I understood now how people died of flu,” Holmes said. Though she’d heard both twins’ heartbeats the day before she became ill, “there was only one after,” she continued. “I will never forget what it feels like to have so much joy turn into such a tearing of grief.”
Vaccines have proven indispensable lifesavers for both mothers and babies, yet they’ve only been promoted heavily to pregnant women in the past 10 to 20 years. “The climate for maternal immunization is totally different than what it used to be,” said Dr. Kathryn Edwards, M.D., a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “For 30 years, no one wanted to touch a pregnant woman with a vaccine.”
To help you better understand the vaccines recommended during pregnancy and when to receive them, I read more than five dozen scientific studies and spoke with four experts on maternal vaccination.
WHEN TO WORRY
Symptoms of influenza can include fever, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, headache and fatigue. Many illnesses share these symptoms, however, so if you develop these symptoms while pregnant, call your provider. If your infant develops a fever, call her doctor.
Pertussis typically begins with cold-like symptoms, such as a mild cough or fever, during the first one to two weeks of illness. Children typically develop the severe coughing fits that might end with a “whoop” sound after the first week or two. If you, your infant or anyone else in the household develop a persistent, unrelenting cough, especially if it involves severe coughing fits or results in vomiting, contact your provider.
As with all vaccines, there is the possibility of side effects (and no, being pregnant doesn’t put you at higher risk for them). The most common ones with the flu and Tdap vaccines include headache, fever, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and redness or swelling at the injection site. Severe allergic reactions are rare. Despite misconceptions about the flu vaccine, it cannot give you the flu.
Though research generally suggests that there’s no increased risk of miscarriage after getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy, the C.D.C. is investigating one 2017 study which found a potentially heightened risk for women who got the 2011-2012 vaccine during their first trimesters after having received the 2010-2011 vaccine the year prior. “Because miscarriage is so common in the first trimester, occasionally it can lead to being mistakenly associated with vaccination,” said Dr. Healy. The C.D.C., American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics continue to recommend that pregnant women get the flu vaccine because the benefits exceed the risks, and no other studies have found a similar miscarriage risk.
That said, if you experience any concerning side effects, including the expected ones and especially those of a severe allergic reaction such as hives, facial or throat swelling, difficulty breathing or a drop in blood pressure, contact your care provider, said Dr. Edwards.