When it comes to pregnancy, mamas-to-be are divided on several things: breastfeeding versus bottle, whether or not a glass of wine here and there is OK, and — the flu shot. Refueling the conversation is a new study that found an association between getting the vaccine when pregnant and having a miscarriage, prompting more women to feel understandably concerned. The results are inconclusive, so much so that even the study's authors are urging women to still get a flu shot (while subsequently pushing for more research). So is the flu vaccine safe to get during pregnancy?
"The flu shot is completely safe to get during any trimester of pregnancy," Dr. Aaron Styer, OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist with Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in Boston, tells Romper in an email interview. "It is safe to have the flu shot in the first few weeks of pregnancy and even in the postpartum period when breastfeeding. There are no risks to a woman or her baby."
Styer says many pregnant women voice concerns related to miscarriage, that they may contract the flu, or that their newborn baby may be at an increased risk for having the flu at birth if the flu shot is given during pregnancy. But he says there are many studies that confirm the safety of the flu shot during pregnancy, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Like Styer, the CDC maintains that the flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant, therefore making the vaccine not only a safe, but wise choice during pregnancy. According to the CDC, the flu shot given during pregnancy has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby from the flu for several months after birth (up to six months of age).
"In pregnancy there are changes in the immune system, heart, and lung function that make pregnant women more prone to severe illness from the flu which can lead to hospitalization or even death," Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period., tells Romper in an email interview. "Other problems as a result of the flu include dehydration, miscarriage, and preterm labor."
As for the resulting symptoms that some women report as a result of the vaccine, Dr. Yvonne Bohn, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Romper in an email interview that most side effects are temporary and mild, adding that symptoms like "tenderness at the site of injection, mild soreness in the muscle, flu-like symptoms, or low grade fever are the most common and they are not serious and will resolve."
Curious about what's in the flu shot? According to Baby Center, the flu shot is made with inactivated (killed) virus, as opposed to the nasal spray flu vaccine, which is made with a live, weakened virus. Pregnant women should not use the nasal spray vaccine and it actually wasn't recommended for use at all during the 2016 to 2017 season because of concerns about its effectiveness, noted the CDC.
In a release on Wednesday, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists responded to the study, saying that additional studies are needed to address the concern raised by this study, but that "there is insufficient information to support changing the current recommendation which is to offer and encourage routine flu vaccinations during pregnancy regardless of the trimester of pregnancy.”
If you have questions about the safety of the flu vaccine, then — like all debated pregnancy topics — be sure to address your concerns with your doctor. Because if there's one thing that is not uncertain, it's that the safety of you and your little one comes first.
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