First of all, congratulations if you’re pregnant or planning to have a baby soon.
Naturally, your major focus right now is having a problem-free pregnancy and welcoming a healthy baby into the world. The last thing you want to be dealing with are flu symptoms like fever, headaches, a sore throat, muscle aches and tiredness.
There are simple precautions you can take to protect you and your baby from flu:
Get a flu shot
The flu shot is the best protection and the vaccine is safe for both you and your baby when given during pregnancy. Everyone who cares for your baby should get a flu shot too, including other household members and relatives.
If you’re wondering about the safety and benefits of being vaccinated, see the top things about flu every pregnant woman should know.
Sneeze into your elbow
Sneezing into your elbow instead of your hands can help stop the spread of flu. Did you know a sneeze can travel 1-2 metres and a single sneeze droplet may contain 200,000,000 individual virus particles?
Clean your hands
Wash your hands with soap or use a hand sanitiser regularly - a flu virus can survive on unwashed hands for at least 30 minutes and up to two days on other surfaces.
Stay at home if sick
If you are sick with flu, stay at home and avoid close contact with other people to prevent them from also becoming sick. The opposite advice also applies - avoid close contact with sick people to avoid catching the flu yourself!
Top things about flu every pregnant woman should know
- Flu is serious for pregnant women and their babies
- A flu shot is the best protection for you – and your baby
- You can get a free flu shot
- Flu shots are safe for pregnant women and their babies
- The flu shot can't give you the flu
- What to do if you have flu symptoms
Flu is serious for pregnant women and their babies
Getting the flu can cause serious problems when you are pregnant. Even if you are generally healthy, changes in immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make you more likely to get severely ill from the flu.
Pregnant women who get the flu are at higher risk of hospitalisation and even death. Severe illness during pregnancy can also be dangerous to your developing baby because it increases the chance of significant problems, such as premature labour and delivery.
A flu shot is the best protection for you - and your baby
You can get the flu shot at any time during your pregnancy. It takes at least two weeks to make antibodies after getting a flu vaccine and for pregnant women it might be up to four weeks. Some of these antibodies then pass onto your baby during your pregnancy and may also be passed through breast milk.
This is important because babies less than 6 months of age are too young to get a flu vaccine and these antibodies will help protect your baby from flu in the first few months after birth.
You can get a free flu shot
Flu shots are free for pregnant women, so talk to your doctor today about getting a free flu shot. While it is recommended that all pregnant women should be vaccinated as early as possible in pregnancy, the best time to have the flu vaccine is in April or May to ensure your protection doesn’t wane before the flu season peaks.
Flu shots are safe for pregnant women and their babies
The vaccine is safe for both you and your baby when given during pregnancy. There is no evidence of an increased risk of problems for mothers or their babies when the mother is given a flu shot during pregnancy. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) strongly recommends influenza vaccination for pregnant women to protect both the mother and the baby.
The flu shot can't give you the flu
The mild symptoms that some people get after a flu shot are usually related to the vaccine generating an immune response. This is how vaccines work - by training the immune system to recognise parts of the flu virus so it can respond more effectively when it encounters the real thing. There is no "live virus" in the flu shot. Your body responds to parts of the flu virus in the vaccine; you cannot catch the flu from it.
What to do if you have flu symptoms
Call your doctor immediately.
If you have flu-like symptoms (e.g. fever, cough, body aches, headache and fatigue) – even if you have already had a flu shot – call your doctor or clinic right away. Doctors can advise on appropriate treatments for flu that are safe to use even during pregnancy.
Because pregnant women are at high risk of serious flu complications, it is recommended that they be treated quickly with antiviral medicines if they get flu symptoms. These medicines work best when started within 48 hours of symptoms starting.
Fever is often a symptom of flu and may be harmful to the baby during pregnancy. Paracetamol can reduce a fever, but you should still call your doctor.
For further information see the Influenza fact sheet and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or contact your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.
HealthDirect can also provide practical health information and advice on 1800 022 222.
Immunisation for Pregnancy information from the Australian Department of Health, including fact sheets, brochures and videos on the importance of influenza vaccination for pregnancy.