Is the flu jab safe in pregnancy?

Is it safe to have the flu jab when you're pregnant? See what the experts say...

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In a nutshell

It’s safe to get the flu jab at any stage of your pregnancy.

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The expert view

Worried about the effects of the flu jab? Well, rest assured the flu vaccine is considered to be safe for mums-to-be and their babies at any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks to the very end.

“The flu jab is not only safe in pregnancy but is actively recommended,” points out GP Dr Philippa Kaye. “It is safe for the baby and may also pass some protection to your baby.

“The most common side effect is a sore arm with some redness around the injection site.”

In fact, in 2012 experts from the World Health Organisation recommended that pregnant women should be made the top priority of people getting the jab.

This is because catching flu can be really serious for people with lowered immune systems, and the NHS advises all pregnant women to have the jab to avoid potential complications.

If you catch flu, complications can include:

  • Bronchitis, a chest infection that can become serious and develop into pneumonia
  • Otitis media (middle ear infection)
  • Septic shock (blood infection that causes a severe drop in blood pressure)
  • Meningitis (infection of the brain and spinal cord)
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • If you have flu while you’re pregnant, it could also mean your baby is born prematurely or has a low birthweight, and can even lead to stillbirth

Women who have had the flu vaccine while pregnant also pass some protection on to their babies, which lasts for the first few months of their lives.

The NHS also notes on their website that it’s fine to have if you’re breastfeeding, too.

Can the flu jab give you the flu?

Some people do worry about having vaccines when pregnant – as there isn’t generally loads of evidence out there on the risks during pregnancy because of ethical reasons around scientific research on mums-to-be.

In fact, a recent survey by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and Emma’s Diary showed that 44% of 2,600 expectant mums chose not to receive the flu jab purely because they were concerned about possible health risks to themselves or to their unborn baby.

(We’ve asked the RCM to expand on what those exact health concerns were, but we’ve yet to hear back.)

But please rest assured that the flu jab for pregnant women is not a ‘live’ vaccine, which means it doesn’t include live viruses.

It shouldn’t cause you to get ill, but may have a few uncomfortable side effects, as explained on the NHS.uk website:

“Some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and you may feel a bit sore at the injection site.”

The NHS also notes in a piece called ‘adult flu vaccine side effects‘ that it is still possible to catch a flu-like virus, which can make you think you’ve caught flu from the jab.

We hope it’s also reassuring to know that the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) continually monitors the safety of vaccines and has found no evidence that the seasonal flu jab is not safe for pregnant women.

Meanwhile, US research from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 1990 and 2009 found no pregnancy safety concerns, or problems with the baby, among women having the jab.

When should I have the flu jab?

The flu vaccine is normally available from September until around January or February each year and is free for pregnant women.

If I had the vaccine last year, do I need to have it again?

Yes, because the viruses that cause flu change every year. This means that the flu (and the vaccine) this year may be different from last year.

If you had the flu vaccine last year, either because you were pregnant or because you’re in a vulnerable group, you need to have it again this year.

Mums on our forum say

“I had the flu jab after lots of umming and ahhing. I had mine at 10 weeks. It doesn’t hurt but I did have a dead arm for a couple of days. I was told the risks associated with the vaccine are non-existent compared to the risks of catching the flu when pregnant.

“It is a personal choice and I’m still wondering whether it was the right thing to do. To be honest, I think I’d worry if I did have it and worry if I didn’t,” says Littlemissimpatient

“The normal flu jab I have been having for years and have had it on all my pregnancies although I forgot to get it this year as my review with the GP is normally in November (when our surgery starts to give them).

“I was worried it might make me ill with flu like symptoms as I just started a new role at work The week I had it but it was fine and my midwife said if you do get any mild symptoms they would start then clear up in a couple of days.” adds Brookes764

One celeb’s flu jab story

emma mcvey

Emma McVey, model and pregnant girlfriend of Geordie Shore‘s Gaz Beadle, recently wrote in her OK! Online column about her first experience with the flu jab.

25-year-old Emma is due in January 2018 – and at 8 months pregnant was given the NHS-recommended flu jab.

And though she admitted she wasn’t 100% sold on it and didn’t feel great afterwards, she says it was definitely worth the risk.

“This past week I’ve been sick following my flu jab, and because I can’t take [certain over-the-counter remedies], I’ve been letting it run its course.”

She didn’t expand much on her symptoms, other than to imply cold-like symptoms and a ‘razor blade’ sore throat…

“It was practically like I had flu, so last week I did nothing at all, and you obviously can’t take anything, you just have to ride it out, and it was freezing so I didn’t want to go out too much – but I felt so much better over the weekend. 

“I’m terrified of needles, so for me, I would never have convinced myself [to have it], but if I end up really ill with the flu, the baby could be really ill.

“So it was important to me, the reason I got it was for the baby.”

As Emma notes, she didn’t have the actual flu at all – as we’ve stated above there’s no live virus in the jab.

However, it is winter, and the flu jab can’t protect from colds, coughs and all the other nasties that get to us when the weather turns.

It also seems that poor Emma’s a bit of a target for feeling sick, too!

“I’ve had a few illnesses while being pregnant that I did panic about, for example, I had shingles when pregnant, but Doctors did say it does protect the baby from getting it.”

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