Navigating Flu Season While Pregnant? What You Should Know
Oct 26, 2020 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Pregnancy is a time of wonder, growth and anticipation. It's also a time when your growing body is more vulnerable to infection.
"The flu, like most viruses, can be more dangerous for pregnant women than the average population," says Dr. Kelly Joy, an OB-GYN at Cedars-Sinai. "Pregnancy is an immune-suppressed state, so pregnant women are more susceptible to catching a viral illness—and suffering from complications."
If you start to feel ill, don't wait to notify your doctor for further guidance. And if you're feeling strong and holding steady, make sure to stay on top of your prenatal and postnatal care visits.
The reason, of course, is that their bodies are busy building a baby, which means increases in blood volume and reduced lung capacity. Perhaps not surprisingly, the latest data suggest that pregnant women also have a higher risk of COVID-19-related complications compared to other reproductive-age women.
But that doesn't mean pregnant women should expect to get sick this season. In fact, because people are taking COVID-19 precautions—practicing physical distancing, wearing masks and paying extra attention to hand hygiene—expectant moms may even be less likely to catch a virus this year.
With cold and flu season coinciding with COVID-19, pregnant women need to take steps to prevent all viral illnesses. The most important thing you can do? Get vaccinated against the flu.
"All pregnant women should get a flu vaccination, whether it's their first prenatal appointment or they're already past their due date," Dr. Joy says.
The reason: Getting the vaccine cuts the risk of developing severe flu complications in half. Plus, there's evidence to suggest that when pregnant women get a flu vaccination, the resulting antibodies may help protect their unborn babies, too.
In addition to getting a flu vaccine, there are plenty of things you can do to boost your immune system and reduce your risk of getting a viral illness: Get sufficient sleep, eat a whole-foods diet boasting plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, take a daily prenatal vitamin and stay hydrated. Then, follow the basic tenets recommended to protect against all viruses:
- Wear a mask
- Practice good hand hygiene
- Maintain a safe physical distance between yourself and other individuals
What to do if you get sick
If you develop a tickle in your throat, spike a fever or notice more labored breathing, it's a good idea to check in with your doctor about your symptoms. It's not uncommon for pregnant women who develop a viral illness to require medical care for complications ranging from dehydration to pneumonia.
The flu and COVID-19 share many symptoms, including:
- Muscle pains and body aches
- Sore throat
- Vomiting and diarrhea
To make getting an accurate diagnosis even more complex, some symptoms of pregnancy—fatigue and difficulty breathing, for example—are also signs of both flu and COVID-19.
"Determining whether you're suffering from the flu, COVID-19 or just a common cold compounded by pregnancy can be challenging," Dr. Joy says. "We can test patients for both flu and COVID-19 and prescribe medication to patients with flu-like symptoms."
Bottom line: If you start to feel ill, don't wait to notify your doctor for further guidance. And if you're feeling strong and holding steady, make sure to stay on top of your prenatal and postnatal care visits.
Preemptive visits are key to ensuring you—and your baby—get the necessary vaccinations to stay safe and healthy.