If you're pregnant, then you probably already know that it's nearly impossible to go more than a minute without thinking about the little life growing inside of you. But, for every fun speculation — what color eyes or whose nose they might have, for instance — there's an equal amount of worry or safety concern, too. With this year's influenza (flu) virus spreading so far and quickly, many expectant mothers have a new concern to add to their list. That's why it's vitally important to know the reasons why the potentially deadly flu is especially dangerous for unborn babies. Understandably, this isn't an easy topic to think or talk about, but it's a necessary issue to address in order to protect the bundle of joy in your belly.
The first, and possibly most important, reason why the flu can possibly harm your unborn baby is due to the fact they are easily affected by how the flu hits you. That makes sense because your health directly influences your baby. As Dr. Ashley S. Roman, a clinical assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University-Langone Medical Center, told The Bump:
"If your [flu] symptoms get out of control, it can affect the fetus. Dehydration specifically can lead to preterm contractions, and a high fever early on in the pregnancy can lead to birth defect," Roman further explained.
As it turns out, pregnancy and the flu make a dangerous duo for an additional reason. Already, this year's flu season has seriously affected pregnant women, one of the groups with the highest risk for increased severity and complications. For instance, "changes in immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make you more likely to get severely ill from [the] flu," according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). "Pregnant women who get [the] flu are at high risk of developing serious illness, including being hospitalized," as is further explained in the report. In a way, this might be what is so difficult about being an expectant parent during flu season. You not only have to monitor yourself as a pregnant woman with influenza, you have to think about the health of your unborn baby, too.
Another layer to understanding why the flu is dangerous for your unborn baby has to do with immunity. A study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) stated that fetuses have an immature immune system and rely on receiving antibodies from their mother via the placenta and umbilical cord. What's more, "when you’re pregnant, your immune system isn’t as quick to respond to illnesses as it was before pregnancy," according to the official website for the March of Dimes.
Basically, this means that your unborn baby's immune system is unprepared against the flu and your's isn't strong enough to protect the both of you. By having no real barrier between your unborn baby and the potentially deadly flu virus, they are at an increased risk for serious health problems.
So what can you, as a mother-to-be, do to give your unborn baby their best chance at avoiding this year's severe flu? Again, it starts with you. In a study published in Pediatrics, researchers found very promising statistics:
"Infants born to women reporting influenza immunization during pregnancy had risk reductions of 64 percent for influenza like illnesses (ILI), 70 percent for laboratory-confirmed influenza, and 81 percent for influenza hospitalizations in their first 6 months."
To put it simply, you've learned about why the flu can be so dangerous for your unborn baby, and now you know how to protect both you and them from a potentially devastating virus. As always, if you have any concerns or questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to your physician for guidance in prevention (or treatment) of the flu while pregnant.
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