To Take or Not to Take the Flu Vaccine during Pregnancy

What's best for you and your unborn baby?

Every year, flu season comes, and every year, I turn down the flu vaccine. My dad was required to get a yearly flu vaccine because he was in the Navy, and without fail, he would come down with flu-like symptoms after he received his vaccination. My personal track record observing the flu vaccine doesn’t get much better. As a dietetic intern in the 2002-2003 flu season, 3 interns–including myself–did not receive the flu vaccine, and the other 3 interns did receive the flu vaccine. Guess who got sick with flu-like symptoms that year–the 3 interns who received the vaccine. Guess who did not get sick with flu-like symptoms that year–the 3 interns who did not receive the vaccine.

Personal experience is all fine and dandy when it’s just myself I have to worry about. But now that I’m pregnant, I see advisories out from every sort of women’s health care association and federal government agency for pregnant women to get a flu shot. Tell me stories about pregnant women losing their unborn children to H1N1 (swine flu) or pertussis (whooping cough), and I say, “Vaccination? Where do I sign up?!”

But fear isn’t a good way to make objective decisions either, so this weekend, I turned to the research. Granted, I’m no expert, but I can read, and I do have a degree in health science, which included a class in health science research. With that said, here’s what I found.

The flu vaccine probably would:

  • Provoke an immune response, leaving me with antibodies to the specific strains of flu virus that would be in the vaccine I receive. This is called immunogenicity. Note that immunogenicity is not equivalent to efficacy. Antibodies don’t necessarily translate into being 100% protected from the flu.

The flu vaccine might:

  • Protect me from catching the flu. If the strains of viruses in the flu vaccine are well-matched to the viruses in circulation this year, it may decrease my risk of becoming ill from the flu.

The flu vaccine probably won’t:

I did not find any evidence that the flu vaccine causes harm to pregnant women or their unborn children . On the flip side, I did not find any evidence that the flu vaccine provides significant benefits to pregnant women or their unborn children. Honestly, I could go either way. For now, I’m thinking I’ll turn down the vaccine as usual. I’d rather take my chances with washing my hands frequently and keeping my home and workspace clean.

I know, I know…who am I to come to a different conclusion than thousands of health care professionals and scientific experts? My whole life I’ve had a hard time blindly accepting one-size-fits-all guidelines–whether they’re for health, spirituality, lifestyle, whatever. My decision isn’t set in stone though. If someone can show me a well-constructed study that shows significant benefit for pregnant women, I’ll jump in line for a shot.

Whether you’re pregnant or not, what do you plan to do for you and your family this flu season?


About The Preconceptionist

Where personal experience meets clinical and cultural preconceptions about birth and women's health.
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16 Responses to To Take or Not to Take the Flu Vaccine during Pregnancy

  1. Pingback: To Take or Not to Take the Flu Vaccine during Pregnancy | Todo sobre la Influenza AH1N1 | All About Influenza

  2. Sara says:

    I’m with you on this one. I’ve never gotten a flu vaccine and don’t ever intend to. My personal thought is that they’re way over-used, not to mention that they don’t protect you from the latest strain since the vaccines are usually made from the previous year’s strain. I also wonder if over-vaccinating causes the flu virus to strengthen over time (much live over-use of antibiotics has contributed to the rise of super bugs). Just my thoughts–everybody has to make the decision that’s best for their family and situation!

  3. angeci13 says:

    I know that being sick when you are expecting is just a horrible experience. You only have a few options for medications when you are sick and pregnant, so I found I was very miserable while waiting to overcome just a cold when I was pregnant with my DD. Plus you are worried about what effect the medicines you are taking will have on your unborn baby. As a result, I got the flu shot back then and plan to take it again whenever I am expecting my next baby.

    Now as for the H1N1 shot, that is fairly new so not too sure about taking that one just yet.

  4. Ann says:

    As part of the over 50 crowd that gets harped at to get the flu shot every year, I staunchly refuse. If you have a strong immune system, there is little to fear. Make sure you get enough Vitamin D— very important! Eat lunch outside, get out as much as you can while the weather is good, eat grassfed meat and dairy, talk to your midwife about supplementation. Everything I read points to the flu (and most other illnesses) as being the result of a Vitamin D deficiency.

  5. Interesting. I’ve read that vitamin D is related to mental health and cancer, but haven’t read up on vitamin D and immunity. My midwife has me on probiotics, which can also be very helpful for boosting the immune system.

  6. The one time I got the flu shot (maybe 3 years ago), I got sick with a nasty cold! Plus, I’m not a wimp about shots or pain in general, but my arm ached for days. After that, I decided I’d take my chances, and I’ve been flu-free since. I avoided the H1N1 shot, too, but I’m up-to-date on my Tdap, which I could have used before my one bout with whooping cough.

  7. Healthybun says:

    It’s a really tough decision. I’m struggling with it myself.
    You should check out this piece:

    Basically, the take home message is that it’s bad to get the flu (and potentially, other infections) while pregnant because it increases the risk that baby will develop schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. However, the last section of the piece touches upon the idea that the flu vaccine might come with the same risks….it’s unclear.

    This is something I’ve done a lot of research on….maybe I’ll post something about it too!

  8. Lauren says:

    Although I live in the Northeast where winters are bitter cold and nobody stays home when they’re sick, I have never had a flu shot because I have a fear of needles (albeit an irrational one). And every year when January-February rolls around, I come down with a flu-like illness that knocks me out for a week and usually turns into a chest infection that lingers until springtime. However, this year, for the sake of little prune face (week 10= size of a prune), I am going to get the shot in hopes that it will prevent my annual bout of sickness. If it doesn’t, well then this year will be just like every other year, but if it does, I will be proud of myself for sucking it up and doing what I think is best for me & my uterine guest. I spoke with my midwife and she recommended the shot as the potential benefits outweigh the minimal risks (also, the practice I go to has a thimerosal-free vaccine). But like you always say – you’ve got to do what feels right for you, based on your own research and what you feel comfortable with.

  9. I plan on taking the flu shot. I have taken it in the past and have felt achy, but I hear the risk of a pregnant woman getting the flu is worse than what you get with the shot..and you can pass on some of that immunity to your child once their born since they can’t get vaccinated.

  10. Lauren, I think I would make the same decision if I lived where you live and tended to get the flu every year. It really is an individual decision. I just find it so odd that the evidence is so mediocre and the recommendations are so strong.

    Jen, thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinion/experience!

  11. Personally I don’t get the flu shot not pregnant and definitely wouldn’t if I were. 🙂 Goes against the norm, but I’m not one to follow along either. I have problems with what’s in the shots and like you don’t think the supposed benefits are worth it. I take extra care to boost my immune system through good foods, a low sugar and grain diet, as well as making sure I take my probiotics and cod liver oil (high in vitamin A and D).

  12. Ashley Frye says:

    I’m currently pregnant (in my first trimester) and I’ve been struggling with this decision. I’m not going to say I haven’t gotten sick, because I have. But I’m so skeptical about these vaccines and what they can do to my baby, even after birth. I know they say there’s no real evidence between flu vaccines and autism and SIDS but I feel like women have been giving birth for generations and it’s only been now in the last 100 years that children are born with increased disabilities. I also feel like doctors have to ‘highly’ suggest pregnant women getting the vaccine because there are extremes to each side. Not only though but the pharmaceutical companies want money, but that’s a different issue.
    But where are the numbers that have shown women who haven’t gotten these vaccines have lost their pregnancies?
    I’m thinking this is a no-go for me.

  13. jen says:

    I am 28 weeks and have decided not to get the flu shot. I still wonder if I am making the right decision…

  14. Pingback: Virginia Health Officials Urge You to Get Vaccinated | The Village at McNair Farms-Herndon

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