Flu shot during pregnancy poses no harm to baby

Shelly Haberman
Allison Birschbach

Allison and Tony Birschbach celebrated another milestone in their seven-year marriage – welcoming their second child, Simon, into the world more than a month ago. Simon is joined by brother Thomas, who is three.

As parents, Allison and Tony, like others, want what is best for their children and their family. So when Allison was expecting Simon, the couple stepped forward to receive their flu vaccination to protect everyone.

“As an elementary teacher, I am in constant contact with germs; therefore, it is important to protect my health,” Allison explains. “Getting the flu vaccine provides me with a defense during the difficult cold and flu season at school. This year was even more important to get vaccinated as I was pregnant with our second child. I wanted to get vaccinated early in the season for my own health, but also for the health of my unborn child.”

In consultation with her obstetrician, Mary Schultz, MD, Allison received the flu vaccine.

“The flu can be especially dangerous for pregnant women so I wanted to take every precaution,” Allison says. “My husband also received the vaccine to protect his health and the health of our family. He works in different cities around the state for work so it is important to keep as much sickness away from our house as possible. Since baby is too young to receive the vaccine, we feel confident that vaccinating the rest of the family will help protect our baby.”

Studies show that getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy causes no harm to newborns.

Researchers reviewed records on more than 400,000 infants born between 2004 and 2014, and found no increased risk of infant hospitalization or death following maternal vaccination during pregnancy with either the flu vaccine or Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis, or whooping cough) vaccine.

“With all of the expecting parents I work with, I highly encourage them to receive the flu vaccine,” says Dr. Schultz. “Flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women of reproductive age who are not pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum) more prone to severe illness from flu, including illness resulting in hospitalization.”

Allison encourages other expecting moms and dads to consider being vaccinated.

“Getting the flu vaccine was definitely the right decision for my family,” Allison says. “Now that I've given birth to a healthy baby boy, I feel confident knowing my son is protected and has those antibodies in his system. I think mothers naturally want to protect their babies and getting the flu vaccine is an easy, effective way for them to prevent this potentially harmful illness.”

Health care providers also encourage breastfeeding women get the flu vaccine to protect themselves from flu. Getting vaccinated reduces mothers’ risk of getting sick and of passing the flu on to their babies, thus protecting their babies from flu also. This is especially important for children younger than six months old since they are too young to receive influenza vaccine themselves.

“In addition to getting a flu shot, pregnant women should take the same everyday preventive actions that is recommended of everyone, including covering coughs, washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick,” according to Kim Mueller, Fond du Lac County health officer.

“If a pregnant woman does get sick with flu symptoms, they should contact their health care provider right away,” Mueller advises. “There are antiviral drugs that can treat flu illness and prevent serious flu complications. Early treatment of influenza in hospitalized pregnant women has been shown to reduce the length of the hospital stay.”

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