Is it safe to have the flu vaccine in pregnancy?

Is it safe to have the flu vaccine in pregnancy?

When you’re pregnant you do have to be cautious about taking any medication because it may affect your baby’s development, so always check with your GP or midwife first, but the UK’s Department of Health strongly recommend you do have the flu vaccine if you are pregnant during the winter flu season.

This is because there is research evidence to show that pregnant women are more at risk of developing complications from flu such as bronchitis, a chest infection which can develop into pneumonia, where tiny air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and fill up with fluid and cause breathing difficulties. Other complications include septic shock, meningitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

In the UK between 2009 and 2012, flu was the cause of death for 36 women who died in pregnancy, but it is estimated half of these deaths could have been prevented by having a flu vaccination.

There are also some studies to suggest catching flu in pregnancy could mean your baby has a low birthweight, for instance some studies suggest your baby is up to four times more likely to be born prematurely and to have low birth weight. Experts say this is because flu can trigger inflammation in the body and bring on premature labour. Flu in pregnancy can even lead to stillbirth or your baby dying in the first week of their life. Studies have shown that pregnant women who are vaccinated are less likely to have a premature birth or to have a low birth weight baby.

Flu antibodies from vaccination also travel through the placenta and give your baby some protection against infection in the first few months of life when their immune system is still developing.

Getting vaccinated

Because of these risks all pregnant women in the UK are offered the flu vaccine sometime between September and February. In some areas it is given by a midwife at an antenatal clinic and in others you need to make an appointment at your GP practice. The flu vaccine is often given with the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine.

In the 2017 to 2018 flu season 47 per cent (300,000) women in England received the flu vaccine. For the 2018/2019 flu season Public Health England has selected different vaccines for specific groups of the population. A quadrivalent injected vaccine is advised for adults aged 18 and over but below the age of 65 who are at increased risk from flu because of a long-term health condition (this includes pregnant women), and for children 6 months and above in an eligible group who cannot receive the live vaccine. 

The vaccine does not contain any live viruses, so you will not get flu by having it.

How do you know if it’s flu or just a cold?

Lots of us will say we’ve got the flu but in most case it’s just a common cold. Flu has more severe symptoms than a cold. These include: a sudden fever of 38C or above, aching body, feeling tired or exhausted, dry, chesty cough, sore throat, headache, sleeping problems, loss of appetite, diarrhoea or tummy pain and nausea and being sick.

Whereas a cold will start slowly, flu comes on more rapidly. A cold mainly affects your nose and throat but flu affects the whole body. If you have a cold, you’re able to carry on with your daily life, but if you have flu you are too unwell and fatigued to do this.

If you do have flu symptoms contact your GP or midwife for advice as there is a prescribed medicine that can help, but it has to be taken as soon as possible after first symptoms appear. If you’re concerned about your baby and need reassurance you can ask for a baby scan to check on your baby’s wellbeing or book one privately with Ultrasound Direct.

Why are pregnant women more at risk?

Research data from the Swine Flu Pandemic in 2009 found pregnant women were four times more likely to develop serious illness and up to five times more likely to be admitted to hospital, compared with the general population.

Because of this evidence, the Department of Health has added pregnant women to the list of groups considered to be at high risk of complications from seasonal flu.

Scans for reassurance

If you’ve been unwell with a bad case of flu, especially in the last trimester and are worrying your baby might be affected, see your GP or midwife. For some extra reassurance you might want to consider booking a private ultrasound scan. These are available at every stage of your pregnancy through private providers such as Ultrasound Direct. Just seeing your baby on the screen may help put your mind at rest.

Ultrasound Direct is the UK's leading provider of private antenatal ultrasound scans and offers a total of 14 different antenatal diagnostic scans, including early pregnancy scans, NIPT scans, anomaly scans and late presentation scans, as well as fertility scans using the latest 3D and 4D scanning technology. The company have a network of clinics at convenient locations throughout the UK and can offer expert reassurance at every stage of your pregnancy with appointments to suit your busy schedule.
For more information on the range of Baby Scans provided please visit the Ultrasound Direct Baby Scan page

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