Ah, fall. That magical time of year when pumpkin spice lattes, boots, oversized sweaters, and the flu reign supreme. The possibility of contracting the flu is disconcerting for anyone, but it can be especially worrisome for people trying to get pregnant and wondering if the flu affects ovulation. After all, when you're trying to get pregnant, or worried about your chances of conceiving, every aspect of your continued health and wellness is on your mind.
To find out more about how the flu can impact your fertility, Romper spoke with Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a Clinical Professor and OB-GYN at Yale University, and Edward Marut, MD, an OB-GYN and Reproductive Endocrinologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois. While they disagree about whether or not the flu can impact ovulation, they agree that avoiding the flu while pregnant or trying to conceive is imperative.
According to Minkin, the flu could impact ovulation. "Any serious infectious illness can interfere with ovulation — it's a significant stressor on the body — and just about any serious stressor can impact the complex hormonal activity leading to a good ovulation," she says. In fact, a 2010 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that stress can delay pregnancy, and women with high levels of stress are less likely to conceive.
Minkin says that if you do ovulate and get pregnant while you have the flu, it can be dangerous for your pregnancy. "Early on in pregnancy particularly high, prolonged fevers can lead to malformations in a fetus," she says. Women who contracted a cold or flu that was accompanied by a fever right before or during the early stages of pregnancy are more likely to have a baby born with a birth defect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Influenza can lead to significant fevers, so why not minimize your chances of coming down with the flu?" Minkin continues. "It's ideal to get yourself vaccinated — the flu vaccine is quite safe — and if you have any questions, you can check in with your OB-GYN health care provider."
Marut disagrees, however, and says that it's unlikely that the flu will stop someone from conceiving. "Unfortunately, getting the flu is unlikely to interfere with ovulation, unless the complications result in a very severe illness," he says. "I say this is unfortunate because it means that someone with the flu is just as likely to get pregnant and have complications arise because of the pregnancy."
Marut says there's no way of knowing how the flu will impact you or your pregnancy, either. "It is very possible that a pregnancy will occur without affecting the fetus or increasing maternal complications," she says. "But whether or not it does, the probability of the flu causing a set of symptoms including pneumonia and death exists."
While the flu might not affect your cycle, it most definitely can cause a fever. Per the Mayo Clinic's website, if you are tracking your basal body temperature to predict ovulation — to get pregnant or prevent pregnancy — having a fever can make you think you are ovulating, when you aren't. This means you might actually miss your fertile window, which can affect your ability to conceive.
While experts may disagree about whether or not the flu will impact your fertility, they emphatically agree that everyone should get a flu shot. "That’s why it is so important to get a flu vaccine in general, and especially if attempting pregnancy, and even more importantly, when pregnant," Marus says. "The flu vaccine is safe during all stages of pregnancy and may prevent a horrible disaster."
Unless you have a medical reason for skipping the seasonal flu vaccine, you should get one every year, per the CDC. This is especially true for pregnant people who are at higher risk for complications and death from the flu, due to changes in their immune systems during pregnancy. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends that women of reproductive age become aware of their vaccination status and get any necessary vaccines — including a flu shot — before they get pregnant, in order to prevent illnesses that might be harmful to them or their growing fetus.
Fortunately for pregnant people, flu shots are considered safe at all stages of pregnancy, so if you forgot to obtain one prior to finding out you are pregnant, you can still get one and protect yourself and your future baby from the flu.