How can the flu shot benefit pregnant women?

Author: Merrilee Gober, RN, BSN, JD

Every year thousands of people die from the flu, and pregnant women are in the “high-risk” category. A healthy pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized for the flu is 18-fold greater than for a healthy non-pregnant woman.1

Physicians recommend the flu shot for pregnant women during all trimesters.2 Studies have shown that, overall, pregnant women who get the flu shot have better birth outcomes. The flu shot is associated with a decrease in the risk of stillbirth, prematurity, and small for gestational age babies.3 But the benefits of the flu shot do not stop at birth!

Did you know that a mother is the only person who can protect her newborn baby from the flu? Babies under six months are not given the flu shot because their bodies will not respond to it. Giving an infant under six months a flu shot is ineffective because the baby’s young immune system does not create adequate protective antibodies.4 However, a woman who gets the flu shot while pregnant will create those protective antibodies and share them with her unborn baby. The antibodies made by the mother live on in the baby for several months after birth and provide ongoing protection to the baby from the flu. Some antibodies can also be passed from mother to baby through breastmilk.5

Want to learn more about the amazing research on flu shots during pregnancy? Check out the HMHB 2016 State of the State of Maternal & Infant Health in Georgia.