When you’re pregnant, staying healthy becomes even more important to you. The healthier you are, the better for baby.

So, you’ve switched to a pregnancy diet. You’re taking prenatal vitamins. You’re trying to stay active. You’re getting regular prenatal care. But have you gotten your annual flu shot?

If the answer is no, I strongly encourage you to do so. But I know you may have questions.

Many moms-to-be ask me: Is the flu shot safe when you’re pregnant? Are there any side effects? What trimester is the best time to get a flu shot? Is the flu really that serious?

Influenza – the seasonal flu – is responsible for millions of illnesses in the United States every year, and pregnant women have a higher risk of serious illness. But getting an annual flu shot can greatly reduce your risk of getting sick and it helps protect baby, too.

Read on to learn more about flu shots during pregnancy, how they protect you and baby, why you may be more susceptible to getting the flu while pregnant, and more.

What you should know about getting a flu shot while pregnant

Are flu shots safe for pregnant women? Yes.

Flu shots are considered safe for pregnant women, and they have been for some time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has done a lot of work to examine the safety of the flu vaccine during pregnancy.

The CDC and its partners have conducted several studies, which have all shown the vaccine to be safe for pregnant women and their babies. In fact, one of the largest studies examining influenza vaccination and the risk of miscarriage was conducted by the CDC.

The study – released in September 2019 – was designed as a follow-up to a smaller study that suggested there was a possible tie. Researchers looked at three flu seasons (2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15) and found there was no increased risk for miscarriage after an influenza vaccination during pregnancy.

How effective is the flu shot for pregnant women?

There’s a myth out there that flu shots don’t work. While getting vaccinated doesn’t protect you from every flu virus, it can significantly reduce your chances of getting the flu and your risk of having flu-related complications while pregnant.

For example, the CDC reports that vaccination has been shown to cut the risk of pregnant women developing flu-associated acute respiratory illnesses by about one-half.

And the best part about the flu shot is that it doesn’t just protect you while you’re pregnant. A flu vaccine for mom also works for baby after they’re born. Newborns are too young to be vaccinated, so getting the flu shot can protect them until they’re old enough to get their own vaccine.

Are there any flu shot side effects when you’re pregnant?

Some people experience mild side effects after getting a flu shot, pregnant or not. The most common side effects are muscle soreness, tenderness and swelling around the injection site. But some people might experience a mild fever, muscle aches or a slight headache.

If you have any severe, life-threatening allergies or you’ve had an allergic reaction to a previous immunization, talk with a doctor about your vaccination options. For example, egg-free flu shots are available for those with egg allergies.

When should you get a flu shot during pregnancy? Any trimester is okay.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is the national expert panel that makes U.S. vaccination recommendations every year. This includes recommended childhood immunizations for diseases like polio, tetanus and measles, as well as seasonal flu vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older.

The ACIP – along with the CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) – say that it’s okay to get a flu shot during any trimester.

Getting a flu shot is easy. You just need to make a flu shot appointment. The vaccine is usually available in early September every year. And it’s recommended that pregnant women – especially if you’re in your third trimester – be vaccinated as soon as the flu vaccine is available for the season.

Plus, many insurance providers, including HealthPartners, cover flu shots 100%. And if you don’t have insurance, HealthPartners and Park Nicollet clinics offer flu shots for $50. If you’re not sure what your insurance covers, call the number on the back of your membership card.

Why are pregnant women at higher risk for serious flu illness?

You’ve probably heard that the flu can be dangerous for older people, infants and people with health conditions. But you may not know that pregnant women are also at higher risk for complications like pneumonia. Why? Because changes to your body make it easier for you to get sick.

Even if you feel healthy and strong while pregnant, pregnancy affects your immune system, heart and lungs. This can make you more susceptible to the flu and can put you at higher risk of more serious illness.

In addition to getting a flu shot, you can take extra steps to stay as healthy as possible, including washing your hands regularly, covering your cough, and keeping your immune system strong by getting enough sleep, eating well, and practicing good health habits.

Can having the flu while pregnant harm your baby?

Yes, it’s possible. A common flu symptom is fever, which may be linked to neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes for a developing baby.

What if you’re not pregnant yet? Can you get pregnant after your flu shot?

You absolutely can. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that people who are trying to get pregnant get vaccinated. People who get the flu while pregnant are at a higher risk for serious illness and complications. You will have full protection 2 weeks after immunization. Choose the flu shot instead of the nasal spray vaccine (called FluMist) if you’re trying to get pregnant soon. The nasal spray contains the live virus and should not be used during pregnancy.

Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect you and your baby

Making time to get your flu shot is the first and most important step in protecting yourself against the flu. When you get vaccinated, you reduce your risk and your baby’s risk of complications from the flu.

What should you do if you think you have the flu? Get treatment for the flu right away. There are medicines to help treat the flu and prevent serious complications. If you need advice, you can call the HealthPartners CareLine℠ at 800-551-0859 or the Park Nicollet Nurse Line at 952-993-4665. Our nurses are there 24/7, and it’s completely free.