Your guide to staying healthy while pregnant during flu season

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The start of flu season always causes worry for families across the country, but this germ-heavy time of year can be more concerning for some than others. Among the most vulnerable during flu season are pregnant women. Luckily, there are many actions you can take to protect yourself and your little one from the nasty virus. Let’s dive into why the flu needs to be a top concern for anyone who is pregnant and how you can stay safe this flu season.

Why Are Pregnant Women More Susceptible?

Pregnancy causes a plethora of changes in your body and one of them is the condition of your immune system. The body’s levels of white blood cells, including monocytes, neutrophils, and T cells, change during pregnancy. They change so that your body doesn’t reject your baby growing inside of you. Without this change, your immune system may consider your baby a dangerous foreign body and react strongly in attempts to return your body to “normal.”

However, the suppression of your immune system that allows it to accept the presence of your baby also makes it less adept at fighting foreign bodies that are actually dangerous to your health. The highly-contagious flu virus can more easily get past the lowered defenses of a pregnant woman’s immune system. If you get the flu while pregnant, you have a higher chance of developing pneumonia and being hospitalized. Catching the flu during pregnancy can also increase the chances of premature birth, low birth weight, and miscarriage.

Can pregnant women get the flu vaccination?

Flu vaccination shots are proven safe for both the pregnant mother and the unborn baby during any stage of pregnancy. The CDC recommends getting the flu vaccination as the most effective way of avoiding the flu during pregnancy. Keep in mind that the flu nasal spray (LAIV) vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women. The nasal spray contains a live strain of the virus and is not a safe option for pregnant women. The shot version of the vaccine does not have a live strain and thus does not pose a danger

The CDC recommends that you get the vaccine in September or October, at the start of flu season. You can get the vaccination at your family physician, many drug stores, or even at locations like urgent care facilities, 90% of which have wait times of 30 minutes or less. You don’t even have to make an appointment, you can just walk into the clinic when you have a free moment and get a vaccination that will protect you and your baby. As a mother’s antibodies transfer to the baby through the placenta, the vaccination can protect an infant for up to six months after birth. The shot has also been proven safe for breastfeeding mothers.

How else can you stay safe during flu season?

In addition to getting the annual flu vaccine, there are a few other effective strategies that can keep you healthy during flu and cold season. The first is getting plenty of sleep. The average adult needs to sleep for seven to nine hours every night, but a pregnant woman should be sleeping for even longer to give her body the rest it needs. At least eight hours of sleep every night will give your immune system as much strength as possible. Extra sleep also helps keep the aches of pregnancy at bay.

Eating well and getting plenty of exercise are key to staying healthy when you’re not pregnant. They are essential when you’re expecting. As four in 10 people use exercise to relieve lower back pain, you might find that your exercise routine has the added benefit of easing back pain due to pregnancy. Check with your doctor before you tackle any strenuous exercises. Typically, low-impact activities like yoga, pilates, and walking are great for pregnant women. When combined with eating balanced meals and healthy snacks, your immune system will be better able to protect you.

Lastly, wash your hands more than ever before if you’re pregnant during flu season. Even an object as seemingly harmless as your cell phone has been in contact with countless surfaces and could have picked up dangerous germs. Try to avoid touching your face as much as possible and be sure to wash your hands right before you do.

The winter months can be scary ones for expectant mothers. However, there are many things you can do to protect yourself and your growing baby. Follow these tips and be extra mindful of harmful germs during the course of flu season. With just a little bit of caution, you can ensure that you have a safe and healthy winter.

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