Getting the flu can cause serious problems for pregnant women. Even if you are healthy, changes in your immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make you more likely to become very sick from the flu.
Pregnant women who get the flu are at higher risk of hospitalization, and even death, than non-pregnant women.
If you are pregnant and become very sick from the flu, it can also be dangerous to your baby. It increases the chance for serious problems such as premature labor and delivery, and birth defects.
If you are pregnant during flu season, the best way to protect both yourself and your baby is to get the flu shot. This recommendation is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).
The timing of flu seasons vary from season to season, but the CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October, if possible. Getting vaccinated at the beginning of the flu season helps to protect you and your baby before flu begins spreading in your community.
The flu shot is safe, during any trimester, for both you and your unborn baby. Flu shots have been safely given to millions of women over many years. See the research about the safety of flu vaccine for pregnant women and their babies.
It is also safe for you to get the flu vaccine while breastfeeding. In fact, breastfeeding also helps to protect babies because breast milk passes your antibodies to your baby, and these antibodies help fight off infection. If you missed getting the flu shot while you were pregnant, it is important to get vaccinated before leaving the hospital.
Since babies cannot be vaccinated against the flu until they are 6 months old, it is important that everyone who will be around your newborn be vaccinated against the flu. (It takes approximately 2 weeks after vaccination for protection against flu to set in.) Find out more about the flu and how to prevent it in children, teens and adults.
If you are pregnant and get sick with flu symptoms, call your doctor right away. There are antiviral drugs that can treat flu and prevent serious complications. Antiviral drugs work best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start). Visit the CDC’s Flu and Pregnancy page for more information on flu symptoms and the importance of early treatment of flu in pregnant women.
Flu Vaccination Helps Protect Pregnant and Postpartum Women, and their Babies from the Flu and its Complications
- Vaccination reduces the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant women by up to one-half.
- A 2018 study showed that getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40 percent.
- Getting vaccinated can also protect a baby after birth from flu. (Mom passes antibodies onto the developing baby during her pregnancy.) A number of studies have shown that in addition to helping to protect pregnant women, a flu vaccine given during pregnancy helps protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth, when he or she is not old enough to be vaccinated.
Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis) Vaccine
Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a very contagious disease that still occurs very often in the United States. Whooping cough can cause serious illness in people of all ages, but it is particularly dangerous for babies. About half of babies younger than one-year old who have whooping cough end up in the hospital, and up to 20 babies die each year in the U.S. The younger the baby is when he or she gets whooping cough, the more likely he or she will need to be treated in a hospital.
People with whooping cough usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close proximity to others. Parents, older siblings, and other family members/caregivers can give whooping cough to babies without even knowing that they have the disease.
Whooping cough can cause uncontrollable, violent coughing that often makes it hard to breathe. After coughing, a person with whooping cough often needs to take deep breaths, which results in a “whooping” sound.
Sometimes it is hard to know if your child has whooping cough because some babies with the disease don’t cough at all. Instead, whooping cough causes them to stop breathing and turn blue.
To best protect both you and your baby from whooping cough, the CDC recommends that you receive a Tdap vaccine during your 27th through 36th week (in the 3rd trimester) of each pregnancy, preferably during the earlier part of this time period. This immunization recommendation for pregnant women is supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
By getting vaccinated with the Tdap vaccine during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, your body makes protective antibodies and passes some of them on to your baby so he or she is born with protection against whooping cough. These antibodies will help your baby until she is able to begin her own whooping cough (DTaP) vaccinations beginning at 2 months of age. Tdap vaccine also protects you from whooping cough during delivery and makes you less likely to pass this serious disease to your newborn.
The Tdap vaccine is safe for both you and your baby.
If you are unable to get the Tdap vaccination while pregnant, get the vaccine immediately after giving birth. To help provide your baby with additional protection against whooping cough, ask your friends, family members (children, teens and adults), and caregivers to make sure they are up-to-date on their whooping cough vaccination (DTaP for children; Tdap for preteens, teens and adults), at least two weeks before meeting the new baby.
Read the emotional real-life stories of parents who lost their children to pertussis in our Personal Stories section. We are forever grateful to these families for sharing their stories and advocating for Tdap vaccination during pregnancy, which was not yet available to them at the time of their loss.
Important: Getting the influenza and Tdap vaccines during your pregnancy is very important and will provide your baby with some early protection against flu and whooping cough. However, the antibodies you pass to your baby will only give her or him short-term protection. It is very important for your baby to get vaccines on time so he or she can start building his or her own protection against these serious diseases.
- Vaccines and Pregnancy handout (Vaccinate Your Family)
- Pregnancy and Flu (CDC) (This page includes links to safety-related studies)
- Effectiveness and Safety Studies related to Maternal Vaccination to Prevent Whooping Cough in Babies (CDC)
- FAQs for Patients Concerning Flu Vaccination During Pregnancy (ACOG)
- Tdap FAQs for Pregnant Women (ACOG)
- Vaccinations and Pregnancy (March of Dimes)