Pregnancy is a time where many changes occur within a woman’s body. Some of them are extraordinary – you’re growing a person in there! – and some of them may be a bit uncomfortable or irritating. But some of these changes may increase the chances of the pregnant woman coming down with the flu (influenza). Changes in her immune system and respiratory system place her at a higher risk for complications.
When a woman becomes pregnant, her immune system must make a few changes that will prevent her body from recognizing the growing fetus as something that is foreign. Although most of these changes will protect her and her growing baby from infections, she has a greater risk of getting sick from certain viruses, such as influenza.
Influenza affects the respiratory system. The normal changes that happen in the respiratory system during pregnancy increase the risk of complications from influenza. Those changes include:
- The amount of fluid and blood in the mother’s body increases during pregnancy.
- The amount of oxygen that her body uses increases.
- As the baby grows inside of the uterus, it continues to get bigger. As the uterus becomes bigger, it puts pressure on some of the organs inside of the mother’s body.
- The growing uterus puts on mom’s lungs, which causes a lesser amount of space for air to move in and out of her lungs.
The combination of more fluid in her body, the smaller amount of space in her lungs for air to move in and out, and changes in her immune system increase her risk of serious illness if she gets the flu.
What you can do to stay healthy
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that all adults receive a flu vaccine. It is especially important that pregnant women and women that may become pregnant during flu season (October through May) receive a flu vaccine.1
The influenza vaccine given to a woman while she is pregnant is inactivated (meaning it’s a dead form of the virus). There is a nasal spray that contains an attenuated (live) form of the virus. It should not be given to pregnant women. So, if you think you might be pregnant, or plan on getting pregnant, speak with your doctor before you get vaccinated for the flu.
Sokolow, L., Naleway, A., De-Kun, L., Shifflett, P., Reynolds, S., Henninger, M., Ferber, J., Odouli, R.,
Irving, S., & Thompson, M. (2015). Severity of influenza and noninfluenza acute respiratory Illness among pregnant women, 2010-2012. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 212(2), 202.e1-202.e11. Retrieved from https://sslvpn.uc.edu/,DanaInfo=www.clinicalkey.comSSL+#!/content/journal/1s2.0S000293781400813