The age old debate "to get vaccinated or not to vaccinate now that is the question," especially while you are pregnant. During this winter flu season it’s important to get all the facts straight before you go under the needle. This pregnancy edition of the flu shot science by our resident doctor is designed to help you best understand what the flu shot is, what's in the flu shot, any risks to the unborn baby, and medical recommendations about the flu shot as outlined by the CDC and ACOG. If you don't have time to read it all, just listen while your in the car, out for a walk, or just playing with the kids.
What is Flu?
Flu, also known as influenza, is a contagious disease of the respiratory system. This is illness is caused by influenza A or B viruses. While flu can occur at any time, it is more common during winter and early spring.
What’s in a flu shot?
The flu shot are made every year by country depending on the viruses that most affect that region. Flu shots protect again three viruses: two influenza A viruses, HINI and H3N2, and 1 influenza B virus. There are two options for flu vaccines:
- Inactivated Influenza Vaccine. This contains killed flu viruses. It is given as an injection and cannot cause the flu.
- Live attenuated influenza vaccine: in this case, it contains live weakened influenza viruses. the vaccine is given as a nasal spray and is not harmful. This flu vaccine is approved for people aged 2 – 49 years only.
Ingredients of flu vaccines
- Egg protein
Flu shots contain a small amount of egg protein because the viruses are grown inside fertilized chicken eggs.
If you are allergic to egg, inform your doctor. You may be given egg-free flu shot called Flucelvax.
Thimerosal is the preservative used when manufacturing flu vaccines. It kills pathogenic bacteria and fungi in the vial.
Stabilizers help maintain the potency of the vaccines even when exposed to heat and light. Stabilizers that keep flu shot stable include sucrose, sorbitol, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is also the substance that use to be in a lot of Chinese food because of the salty taste, but it causes many women to have severe headaches or migraines. Migraines are actually very common in the second trimester of pregnancy, but lucky for us NoMo Migraine has been invented. An essential oil infused 3:1 pressure point wristband that is recommended by OBGYN's and neurologists as a natural solution to help ease the headache cycle and increase the length of time until the next migraine.
Antibiotics such as gentamicin and neomycin are added to the vaccine to stop bacterial from contaminating the vaccine.
- Polysorbate 80
Is used as an emulsifier – keep all the ingredients in the vial evenly distributed.
Is used to inactivate the influenza virus making it less harmful.
Is it safe to get a flu shot when you’re pregnant?
It is safe to get a flu shot when pregnant. Its safety has been backed up by a large body of scientific studies. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), all pregnant women should get a flu shot during flu season.
A flu shot does not make you lose your pregnancy. Data analyzed from a follow up to a smaller study show that flu shot during pregnancy does not increase the risk for miscarriage.
Why should pregnant women get a flu shot?
Getting a flu shot protects you and your baby. Here are the reasons why you should get a flu shot if you are pregnant.
Prevent influenza and its complications
Pregnancy increases your risk of getting flu. The illness also tends to be more serious when you are pregnant than in non-pregnant women. This is because pregnancy weakens your immune system, reduces your heart and lung functions making you more susceptible to severe disease which may make you be hospitalized.
Getting a flu shot lowers your chances of getting the flu and developing a serious flu illness. Data analyzed from a 2018 study show that a flu shot during pregnancy lowers the risk of hospitalization by 40%.
Protect your baby
Flu can make you have fevers. If this happens early in pregnancy, your baby is at risk of developing fetal birth defects such as neural tube defects which can lead to poor outcomes for your baby.
Neural tubal defects can also be seen in women who do not get the appropriate amount of folic acid. Learn all about the most important components of your pre-natal vitamin in Pregnancy Pukeology Podcast Episode 3 Why Take Prenatal Vitamins blog.
Getting a flu shot prevents your baby from developing potential fetal health problems due to flu illness. A flu shot is not given to infants until your baby is 6 months. Before 6 months, your baby is at an increased risk of severe flu symptoms.
Flu vaccines have been shown to protect your baby after birth. It is therefore important to get a flu shot when pregnant. A flu shot will help your body develop protective molecules called antibodies. Your baby will get the antibodies through the placenta or through breast milk (if you are breastfeeding). Remember immunity from mom to baby in the breast milk only lasts for 2 hours, so frequent feedings are needed to keep up the babies immunity. For more breastfeeding knowledge and some really cool immunity facts, listen to Pregnancy Pukeology Podcast Episode 38: Breastfeeding Tips blog.
Your antibodies protect your baby from the flu after birth. And once they hit 6 months old they can get the flu shot.
Which flu vaccine should a pregnant woman get?
Flu shot (inactivated influenza vaccine) is the flu vaccine that is recommended for pregnant women, not the nasal spray flu vaccine. Flu shot contain killed influenza viruses. It is, therefore, safe for you and your baby at any stage of your pregnancy.
Best time to get a flu shot when pregnant
You can get a flu shot during any trimester – including the third trimester, according to CDC and ACOG. While you can get flu shot as long as it is being offered, October and November is the best time to get vaccinated. Flu season starts early at the beginning of October and can stay until late May.
Now if you’re a little concerned to get a flu shot, you can always help boost your immune system with a healthy pregnancy diet. There’s a whole podcast dedicated to What you should be eating in pregnancy from Pregnancy Pukeology Podcast Episode 16. And we already mentioned Episode 3: What’s in a good prenatal vitamin, so now it’s important to dive into how you can increase your immunity naturally by eating these 6 things. Remember you are what you eat!
Natural ways to help boost the pregnant immune system
Everyone has heard of Zinc! But did you known that it can be found in lean meats, seafood, milk, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts?
Zinc is not only important for shortening the duration of cold or flu by increasing your body’s defense system but it can also help would healing as well.
- Vitamin C
No I’m not just talking about oranges, you can find vitamin C in broccoli, cantaloupe, kale, strawberries, tomatoes, guava, and lycee fruit. It is incredible at protecting cells from oxidative stress, a product of infection or chronic inflammation. Hence why vitamin C is called an antioxidant (break down the word and that’s exactly what it means. I always tell my patients that the best way my brain think of immunology and oxidative stress is like virus/bacteria/infection as it’s farts. The by products, farts, are these oxidative stressers and vitamin C keeps them strong and keeps them washing the “smell” aka inflammation away.
Iron aids in non-specific immunity which is the bodies first line defense. It helps to prep our bodies army for battle, and can be found in lentils, spinach, tofu, and white beans. Notice I didn’t mention red meats which can also give you iron, which is especially good for anemic mothers who have low red blood cells.
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E can be found in nuts, seeds, wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, avocado, and shrimp. Vitamin E is another antioxidant and helps to protect cells from oxidative stress like Vitamin C. They are the CE dream team. (All my UK mums will like that one.)
Vitamin E can be found in a lot of facial and skin care products, but pregnant ladies beware! Did you know there are certain makeup and hair brands you should stay away from? If you didn’t hurry over and listen to Pregnancy Pukeology Podcast Episode 47 What makeup to avoid while pregnant blog.
- Vitamin A
We all like A’s. This vitamin is the regulator of the immune response. The Batman glow sign or the hypeman for your immune response, where all the super heroes know they are needed. Orange and red colored vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, red bell pepper, mangos all have lots of vitamin A (spinach and black-eyed peas do also but it didn’t go with my redish hue theme.)
- Vitamin B6
Green vegetables, chickpeas, cold-water fish like tuna or salmon (pregnant ladies don’t forget to limit the amount of large high mercury fish you consume while pregnant.) Need a list of all the Foods to Avoid While Pregnant blog and in Pregnancy Pukeology Podcast Episode 5.
Vitamin B6, Pyridoxine, supports more efficient reactions between different parts of our immune system. It’s the Google calendar of efficiency for our immune system. The best example I have to give is at a fish market you don’t see one person throwing the fish instead you have the man with the clipboard counting and making sure everyone in the fish throwing line is doing well and rotates out when needed.