Flu and pregnancy
Seasonal flu occurs every year, usually in the winter. It’s a highly infectious disease caused by a virus.
If you are pregnant, the NHS advises you to take the seasonal flu jab, whatever your stage of pregnancy.
The most likely viruses that will cause flu each year are identified in advance, and vaccines are then produced that closely match them. Swine flu, also known as H1N1 flu, is one particular strain of flu. This year (2011/2012 season), the seasonal flu vaccine also protects against H1N1 flu.
Risk of flu in pregnancy
When you are pregnant, your immune system is naturally lower. This means that pregnant women are more likely to catch flu and, if they do catch it, they are more likely to develop complications. However, your immune system still functions, and the risk of complications is very small.
Although most pregnant women will only have mild symptoms, all pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy should be offered the flu vaccine. Talk to your GP or midwife if you are unsure about vaccination.
Symptoms and risks
Symptoms of flu include a fever or high temperature (over 38C/100.4F) and two or more of the following:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- unusual tiredness
- shortness of breath or cough
- loss of appetite
- aching muscles
- diarrhoea or vomiting.
These symptoms will be the same if you catch flu in pregnancy. Possible pregnancy flu complications are:
- pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
- difficulty breathing
If in doubt about pregnancy symptoms or infections, always consult your midwife or GP.
Treating flu in pregnancy
If you have a cold or flu there are a number of things you can do to treat the symptoms:
- Lower your temperature with cold flannels, and with paracetamol, as long as you do not exceed the stated dose over 24 hours.
- Get plenty of rest and fluids – you will be losing water by sweating.
- Try to eat little and often to keep your energy up.
- Some cold and flu preparations contain other drugs, so check with the pharmacist about their suitability for use in pregnancy.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen) are not safe to take during pregnancy.
- Depending on how you feel, you may find using a hot water bottle or wheat heat-pack helps with flu symptoms.
If you experience difficulties breathing, call your doctor.
Every year, the seasonal flu vaccine is given to pregnant women who are at risk of flu. This includes pregnant women not in high-risk groups. There is no evidence that inactivated vaccines, such as the seasonal flu vaccine, will cause any harm to you or your unborn baby.
The seasonal flu jab contains inactivated viruses. Usually these are grown in hens' eggs, so if you are allergic to egg proteins, you should not receive a flu jab. Talk to your GP if you are unsure. It also contains other substances such as small traces of certain antibiotics, so again, check with your GP if you have had any allergic reaction to these or previous flu shots. If you want more information, you can ask your doctor for the patient information leaflet for the flu vaccine.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.