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Pregnant women need a flu shot to stave off serious illness

The flu can take an extra health toll on pregnant women, but vaccination can offer protection not only for the woman but for her infant, according to Dr. Leigh Matlaga, an OB-GYN at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center. But if the woman does get sick, there are still treatments that are okay during pregnancy, she said.

Why is it important for a woman to be vaccinated for the flu during pregnancy?


It is important for a woman to be vaccinated for the flu during pregnancy because if a pregnant woman gets the flu she is more likely to be hospitalized and intubated. In 2009, with H1N1, there was an increase in morbidity and mortality among pregnant women. In addition, she can help her infant as the infant will not be vaccinated until after six months and maternal antibodies to influenza pass through the placenta to the baby.

Dr. Leigh Matlaga is an OB/GYN at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center. Photo courtesy of MedStar Health.

Is it safe for the woman and the baby and does the trimester matter?


It is safe to receive the vaccine during any trimester, therefore the earlier the better. There is significant scientific evidence to support the flu vaccine’s safety during pregnancy. Side effects from the vaccine are generally mild and include headache, fever, muscle aches and fatigue.

Does a vaccination for the mother also provide protection for newborns and for how long?

Yes, a maternal vaccination can protect an infant. However, vaccinating family members and caregivers is also recommended. The infant should be vaccinated at six months or as the pediatrician recommends. Breastfeeding mothers should also get the vaccine to avoid passing the flu on to their infants.

When can/should babies have their own vaccination?

Infants can be vaccinated after six months of age against the flu. As with adults, children can experience side effects such as fatigue, low fever and muscle aches. Most flu vaccines use a small amount of egg protein, so if your child is allergic to eggs, speak with your physician, who can take additional precautions in case of a reaction.

Are there other steps a pregnant woman should take to avoid the flu and other infections?

The pregnant woman should also receive the tdap vaccination or the tetanus diphtheria acellular pertussis vaccine between 26 and 36 weeks of pregnancy ideally. This vaccine can protect against the whooping cough. Good rest, hand washing, and a healthy diet can help prevent infection.

If a pregnant woman develops flu symptoms, what should she do?


She should contact her obstetrician as she can be screened for influenza and can be prescribed Tamiflu if deemed appropriate. Treatment should begin as soon as possible to avoid possible harm to the baby or serious complications for the mother.

What kinds of medications are safe to take during pregnancy to relieve general cold symptoms?

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Pregnant women can use Tylenol, Sudafed, Vick’s vapor rub and Robitussin. Any cough drops can help with cold and flu symptoms and are safe to take during pregnancy. Tamiflu and certain antibiotics are safe if recommended by a physician.

Are there good home remedies for congestion or aches and pains?

Pregnant women should not use aspirin or Motrin products, which contain ibuprofen. Instead, they can use Tylenol, heating pads and heating patches, which are safe for the developing fetus.

Are there things pregnant women should not use, such as kinds of teas or vitamins or baths?


Caffeine should be limited to one beverage per day, so go easy on hot teas. Baths are safe during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins continue to be recommended for women suffering from illness, but vitamin A should not be taken in excess during pregnancy.

Is it better to rest while pregnant and sick, or is continuing to exercise okay?

While women should take it easy while they are sick, exercise remains safe and is recommended in pregnancy. Women should keep their heart rates below 75 percent of their maximum heart rate, usually 145 or lower. If there is cramping or spotting, women should limit their exercise.