Pregnancy + Influenza: Flu vaccine helps to protect moms + babies

December 20, 2013
For pregnant women a bout with the flu can have far more serious consequences than a week away from work. Pregnancy causes changes in immune, heart and lung functions. As a result, pregnant women are more susceptible to complications of influenza that have the potential to make them seriously ill and put the unborn baby at risk of premature delivery.

Like the elderly, young children or people with chronic health conditions, pregnant women are much more likely to develop complications, such as pneumonia, that require treatment in hospital and can be fatal in severe cases.

“We know that vaccinated women have less severe disease, better neonatal outcomes and fewer flu related hospitalizations for both mother and baby,” notes van Schalkwyk, who has additional training in infectious diseases.

Pregnancy weakens the immune system - the effects can last as long as 12 weeks after the baby is born. Getting vaccinated helps to protect pregnant women against the influenza virus and provide some early immunity for the baby.  Although infants can become very ill from the virus, flu vaccination for children is not recommended until the age of six months.

Flu vaccination

Flu vaccination is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, van Schalkwyk stresses, but women with any questions or concerns, should be sure to talk to their maternity caregiver.  As it takes about two weeks to develop immunity, pregnant women are advised to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available. BC’s flu vaccines are usually ready in October. Once the vaccine is on board, the body makes antibodies that will help to protect against the flu. These antibodies can also be passed on to the fetus in utero and to infants through breast milk.

The HealthLink BC site has more information about the different types of vaccine available.  Note that the live attenuated influenza vaccine, which is delivered via nasal spray, is not currently recommended for pregnant women. 

As pregnant women are considered to be a high risk group, flu shots are free of charge in BC. The vaccine is provided at a wide variety of locations across the province, including public health clinics, physicians’ offices, and pharmacies. To find the nearest flu vaccine clinic, visit the BC Flu Clinic Locator or call HealthLink BC at 811.

What to do if you get the flu

Although it’s formulated to protect you against the strains of the influenza virus that are expected to surface during the year’s flu season, the flu shot does not provide protection against all possible viruses that can cause flu-like symptoms. If you are pregnant and develop flu symptoms – including fever, cough, headaches, body aches, runny/stuffed nose, vomiting or diarrhea - be sure to take good care of yourself.  However, it’s best to avoid the well-advertised, over-the-counter flu medications, says van Schalkwyk:  “The only remedies that we recommend for pregnant women are good hydration, rest and acetaminophen.”

She also advises pregnant women to be on high alert for signs that the flu is getting worse. If you are worried, err on the side of caution and give your family doctor or maternity care provider a call. And be sure to seek medical advice immediately if you are experiencing prolonged fever, shortness of breath, chest pain or severe nausea and vomiting.

For information on the flu vaccine and coping with flu, please visit HealthLink BC

Written by:  Anne McLaughlin; reviewed by the medical staff and experts at BC Women’s Hospital.

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You are the reason babies like Alexandra are healthy and happy!  Thank you!


A letter form Barrett Brownlee whose daughter Alexandra, was born two months early. Baby Alexandra survived because of the care she received at BC Women's Hospital - now her mother Barrett is pregnant again...

Being separated from my baby daughter for six weeks was the single most painful experience of my life.

It's just not right to wake up on Christmas morning without your newborn under your own roof.

When I found out I was expecting a January baby, I didn’t expect to spend the holidays at BC Women’s Hospital.  But Alexandra arrived two months early, and she spent her first Christmas in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit.

On that Christmas morning, as my husband and I headed out to spend the day in the NICU, we were keenly reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. The only present we wanted was to see her tiny, peaceful face.

Leaving for the night was always the hardest. What I wouldn't have given to have her beside me while we both recovered!

The fact that Alexandra was alive was a gift in itself - I almost miscarried when I was 20 weeks pregnant. After that, I spent the rest of the time on strict bedrest. And I found out that there are still many mysteries about why some women go into labour and give birth too soon.

In the ideal world, there would be no premature babies. No moms separated from their newborns on Christmas morning.

Thank you for being a donor to BC Women's Hospital.  Their unique level of care and research brings hope to moms like me - it’s the only way doctors will find better treatments for preterm labour.

This year, I anticipate the holidays with a mixture of joy and fear. You see, Christmas is coming, and I’m pregnant again…

The holidays draw near, my bump continues to grow, and the memories of Alexandra's birth have a way of flooding back.

But I have hope.

I would never have tried for a second child had I not felt confident that my doctor has a treatment plan to minimize my risk of having the baby arrive too soon. 

And I have faith.

All will be well whenever Alexandra's little sister chooses to join us because BC Women’s Hospital is there.


Thank you,

Barrett Brownlee

P.S. Every time I hug Alexandra, I appreciate the amazing care that we both received at BC Women’s Hospital.  Breakthroughs in research help to make this care possible.

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The content provided in Women’s Health eNews is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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