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Only Half of All Pregnant Women Get a Flu Shot—Here's Why That Needs to Change

Let's be honest: There are already enough things on your to-do list when you're pregnant—but getting you flu shot should be one of them.

Unfortunately, not all moms-to-be are rushing out to get that seasonal jab: A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently found that only just over half of pregnant women—54% to be specific—get the flu shot each year. 

Frankly, that's just not enough; The flu shot is not just important for pregnant women—it's essential. Moms-to-be who get the jab not only reduce their own chances of getting influenza (and dangerous complications like pneumonia or preterm labor), but they also help protect their baby from contracting the flu for up to six months after birth.

How? The antibodies the mother's body makes in response to the vaccine pass via the placenta to the baby around two weeks after the shotand stay there even after delivery. "It gives the baby some protection against the virus until he or she can get the vaccine directly, at 6 months old," explains Ashley Roman, MD, clinical assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center. According to the CDC, a pregnant mom’s flu vaccine can reduce her baby’s risk of being hospitalized before the age of 6 months by up to 72%.

And while some pregnant women say they aren’t sure if the flu vaccine is safe or worry that it may increase the risk of miscarriage, science has proven otherwise. Dr. Roman notes that the flu shot contains inactivated virus, so it’s safe for pregnant women. And a study in the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) project revealed that flu vaccines didn’t raise the risk of miscarriage in any trimester.

Even more reason for pregnant women to get the flu shot: While everyone over the age of 6 months, with rare exceptions, should get a seasonal flu vaccine, it may be even more important for pregnant women to receive the flu vaccine than the average person, per the CDC. That's because pregnant women are more likely to develop severe cases of the flu than women who aren’t expecting—which means they're also more likely to be hospitalized or even die from the flu, especially during the second and third trimesters.

Getting the flu shot reduces those risks by up to 40% and may even lower a woman’s chances of certain pregnancy complications, according to the CDC. That includes premature delivery, Laura E. Riley, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Another prick experts recommend for expectant moms? Tdap, which stands for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. That shot, too, is crucial because pertussis, aka whooping cough, can cause serious illness in a baby. Yet only a third of pregnant women get both the flu and Tdap vaccines, partly because they don’t know they need one each time they’re pregnant. You should get the Tdap for each pregnancy early in the third trimester, according to the CDC. For maximum protection, caregivers, grandparents or anyone who will spend a lot of time around the baby should get Tdap and a flu shot, too.

Experts recommend that you get your flu shot by the end of October. Pregnant or not, be sure to wash your hands regularly to avoid spreading germs, and always cover your coughs and sneezes. If you do pick up the flu while pregnant, contact your doctor as soon as you can. The quicker you start antiviral drugs, the better. The CDC recommends treatment with these medications for pregnant women and other folks at higher than average risk of serious flu complications.

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