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?

Posted in Pregnancy, Vaccinations | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Are First Trimester Sonograms a Good Idea?

Given that I’ve refused giving in to the idea that a physician must confirm my pregnancy, I’m a bit surprised at what I’m about to say. I wish I had a sonogram at my first prenatal appointment.

Yes, I know. They aren’t always necessary in normal, healthy pregnancies. Insurance companies typically only pay for one or two in each pregnancy. But I desperately want to know that my bean has a normal heart beat and looks like a normal bean. I wish I could have seen the gestational sac, the yolk sac, and the fetal pole.

At my next prenatal on October 4, I’ll get to hear the heart beat, which will put my mind at ease. My first sonogram will be at 18 – 20 weeks—sometime in late November or early December.

Do you think a first trimester sonogram would have made a difference in my peace of mind and/or pregnancy outcome? When did you get your first sonogram?

Posted in First Trimester, Pregnancy | 1 Comment

Crapity Crap Crap Crap

At nearly 8 weeks into this venture, I’m starting to drag. I’ve skipped weeks ahead in my pregnancy books and grown tired of browsing baby names. Now there’s nothing left to do than admit: I feel like crap.

In the preconception phase I was sure I’d float through pregnancy on cloud nine, feeding my precious zygote (that’s its nickname) fresh-squeezed juice and elaborately-prepared healthy meals with a side of prenatal vitamin. Now I’m tossing back Gatorade, popsicles, and the occasional glass of cranberry juice to wash down the antibiotics I’m taking to treat my first urinary tract infection (UTI) I’ve had in pretty much forever. Oh, and you know those dreams where you’re trying to run, but you can’t, so you start attempting to propel yourself forward by waving your arms in a swimming motion through the air? That’s what first trimester fatigue feels like.

Something has to give. So, tell me—what did you do or are you doing to get through the first trimester days? Here’s what helps me so far, but please shower me with more ideas!

  • Regular exercise
  • Afternoon naps when possible
  • Frequent breaks at work
  • Lots of water
  • Ginger tea, candy, and beer (sort of like rootbeer)
  • Help from my spouse with my share of the cooking and cleaning
Posted in First Trimester, Pregnancy, Rants | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

What Went Down at My First Prenatal Appointment

It’s time to reveal a bit more about myself. The health care provider I decided on is…drum roll please…a certified nurse-midwife at a birth center. You can probably figure out where I work now, but I’m still not ready to type it out in hopes of this post not showing up in the communications department’s newsfeed Monday morning.

The birth center where I plan to give birth

Yesterday was my first visit ever to a midwife, and I was anxious to see whether my preconceptions about the type of care midwives provide would hold true. Here’s what I expected, and what actually happened.

Preconception 1: You can go to a midwife for prenatal, birth, and postpartum care as well as primary care even when you’re not pregnant.
What Happened: The first midwifery practice I called before I was pregnant was not able to accommodate my primary care needs, and I ended up having to go to a nurse practitioner. The second midwifery practice I called when I was 4 weeks pregnant asked if I needed a referral to a primary care provider. They specialize in prenatal, birth, postpartum, and well-woman care and want you to have a primary care provider on hand. I realize this isn’t true of all midwives, but it was a bit disillusioning since I thought that most midwives provide primary care.

Preconception 2: Midwives spend plenty of time with their patients.
What Happened: I spent 45 minutes with the midwife at my first prenatal appointment.

Preconception 3: Midwives give the best pelvic and breast exams.
What Happened: This was true hands-down. My midwife had the best bedside manners I’ve ever experienced in this department. First, I was given a top and bottom drape that actually covered all the goods. The progression was blood pressure, breast exam, abdomen palpation, pelvic exam. Throughout the exam, he continued to interact with me just as if I was sitting in the chair wearing my street clothes. My previous health care providers almost acted like it was an awkward experience for them. They diverted their eyes. They made no conversation. My midwife continued to ask questions and educated me about what he was doing through each step. He also told me I have a gynecoid pelvis—the most common and best type for giving birth.

Preconception 4: Midwives are usually women.
What Happened: My midwife is a man. (I knew this before my first appointment.) I think the practice has 3 other midwives who are women. I will most likely get to know each of them so that I’ll be familiar with whoever is on call the day my little bean bursts into the world.

Who is your health care provider of choice? How did they measure up to your expectations at your first prenatal? If you’re not yet pregnant, what kind of health care providers are you scoping out and why?

Posted in First Trimester, Pregnancy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why Boobs Don’t Stand a Chance

Because of where I work, I’ve heard the rhetoric about how the formula giants are hitting mothers over the head with free samples at hospitals before they’ve had a chance to get out the door and get the hang of breastfeeding. Personally, I believe there is a place for boobs and a place for formula, and I think it’s up to each woman to decide where that place is for her and her baby. But last Friday, I came home to this:

Unsolicited free sample at 5 1/2 weeks pregnant

Seriously, Similac? Free infant formula samples at 5 ½ weeks pregnant? I admit I’m an obsessive planner, but this is ridiculous. That’s some serious, hard-core, guerilla marketing.

To their credit, Similac did include a free infant feeding guide comparing the benefits and conveniences of breast milk to formula. However, the guide included a good two pages of information about the nutritional content of Similac formula compared to one generalized sentence about the nutritional content of breast milk. I can’t say that’s a fair and balanced presentation of the facts.

What do you think? Is this ridiculous, or am I overreacting?

Posted in First Trimester, Pregnancy, Rants | Tagged , , , | 38 Comments

Aches and Pains in the First Trimester: What’s Normal?

This is my first pregnancy, and I desperately want it to be successful. So, every time I feel a new sensation, I run to the Internet to scour online forums and the occasional good article. No matter what the location of my new-found pain, the answer almost always ends up being “Your body is making room for your baby to grow.”

In an effort to comfort myself and my fellow first trimester gals, here is what’s happening in my body so far. If you have a sensation to add, feel free to share in the comments section.

  • Bilateral twinges in my lower abdomen: I first felt this while using the elliptical at the gym. It’s a brief twinge on one or both sides of my lower abdomen that starts just above my groins and circles out and halfway up my abdomen. My coworker who is also a women’s health professional reassured me that this is normal and is most likely round ligament pain—the feeling you get when your ligaments stretch and strengthen to support your growing uterus.
  • Period-like aching: At about 4 ½ weeks, I had a dream that I started my period and woke up to that dull ache in the pit of my stomach that so often signals the impending arrival of Aunt Flow. It kept me up for two hours and came back off and on throughout the next day. It worried me sick, but it’s gone now. Based on other women’s experiences from online forums, all signs point to “your body is making room for your baby to grow.”
  • Sharp pain extending across the upper abdomen when sneezing: I felt this once while lying on my back on the couch. I let out a big sneeze, which was followed by a sharp pain running the length of my upper abdomen. My friend who is also pregnant and also a health professional assures me that this is normal.
  • Dull ache downstairs: Last night during my boring-ass design class, when I had nothing to focus on, my vagina started to ache. It continued through the rest of the evening and is gone this morning. Guess what—my body is making room for my baby to grow.

Okay, your turn. What scary sensations did you experience or are you experiencing during the first trimester? Did it turn out to be a sign of trouble, or did everything end up fine?

Posted in First Trimester, Pregnancy | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

When Should You Tell People You’re Pregnant?

We already told all 8 soon-to-be grandparents, 1 of 2 soon-to-be great grandmas, 2 soon-to-be uncles, 1 soon-to-be aunt, and 1 couple in our neighborhood. I told my boss (she has a 5 month old) and 3 friends at work. Did I just wildly, horribly, inappropriately jump the gun?

One of my coworkers is a health care professional and says she encourages her patients to only tell their families and close friends and refrain from telling the rest of the world until at least 10 weeks. If you end up having a miscarriage, you don’t want to have to go there with every single coworker and acquaintance.

So, I’ve decided to put a lid on my enthusiasm until week 10. However, I don’t regret telling the people I’ve already told. Letting the secret out put a damper on my urge to tell random strangers in the grocery store that I’m pregnant. It helps to know that somebody else knows and shares my excitement—especially at work where I spend so much of my time. And if I go through the heart-wrenching experience of a miscarriage, I’ll need people in my daily life who can support me through it.

When did you tell the world you were pregnant? If you haven’t been pregnant, do you think you’ll be able to contain your enthusiasm until week 10?

Posted in First Trimester, Pregnancy | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments