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Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse

Flu During Pregnancy

Find out what risks the flu poses to you and baby, and how to treat it safely while you're expecting.

When you're pregnant, it's harder for your immune system to fight off infections—which means you're more likely to come down with the flu. It also means you'll have to fight harder to recover from this potentially dangerous disease. Here's what you need to know about getting the flu during pregnancy and how to safely treat it.

What is the flu during pregnancy?

The flu, short for influenza, is a respiratory illness. Some people think of the flu as a cold on steroids, and while that’s definitely what it feels like, the flu is a much bigger deal than your common cold. According to the March of Dimes, health complications from the flu, like pneumonia, can be serious and even deadly, especially if you’re pregnant.

What are the signs of the flu?

Flu symptoms include fever, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, headachefatigue and body aches. Some people get vomiting and  diarrhea too. Unlike a cold, the flu often seems to hit suddenly. If you feel fine in the morning but are on the couch with a headache, fever, sore throat and nasal congestion by the evening, you may have the flu.

Are there any tests for the flu?

Yep. The flu is usually diagnosed based on your symptoms, especially if it’s going around in your inner circle. If your doc is unsure, you might get a nasal or back-of-throat swab to test for the flu.

How common is the flu during pregnancy?

In general, the flu is pretty common. On average, about 5 to 20 percent of the US population gets the flu each year.

How did I get the flu?

The flu is spread by direct contact and through the air. So shaking hands with someone who has it (and then rubbing your eyes or mouth) or being near them when they cough or sneeze could’ve caused you to catch it.

How will the flu affect my baby?

Pregnant women who come down with influenza and deliver during their influenza hospitalization are more likely than healthy women to deliver low-birth-weight babies. There’s also some evidence to show that influenza may be linked to preterm birth.

A high fever—common during the flu may also affect your baby’s development if you’re still in the first trimester. You can use acetaminophen (Tylenol) to keep your temperature under control.

What’s the best way to treat the flu during pregnancy?

Certain antiviral meds can be given to decrease the severity of the flu. It’s also a good idea to rest and increase your fluid intake.

What can I do to prevent the flu during pregnancy?

Get a flu shot! “I encourage all pregnant women to get the flu vaccine—unless they have a true, significant allergy to eggs or the flu vaccine,” says Sharon Phelan, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico. “The nice thing about getting the flu vaccine while you’re pregnant is that your baby will get some passive immunity to the flu bug too. That will give the baby some protection after birth.” And that’s important, because baby won’t be able to get her own flu shot until she’s at least 6 months old.

What do other pregnant moms do when they have the flu?

“I couldn't keep anything down for 48 hours. Get lots and lots of Gatorade. It was the only drink that actually stayed down.”

“I just had the flu two weeks ago, and it sucked. There were about six kids at my day care who had it, and I just knew I was going to get it. I couldn't eat anything for two or three days, but made sure I took my prenatal vitamin and drank a ton of fluids.”

“The throwing up was so violent it made morning sickness look easy. I couldn't keep anything down until they gave me Zofran. Then I just felt crappy for a few days. It took about a good week to recover.”

Are there any other resources for the flu during pregnancy?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Updated December 2016

Plus, more from The Bump:

Fever During Pregnancy

Vaccines During Pregnancy

Cold During Pregnancy