Are you at an increased risk of complications from flu during pregnancy?

Are you at an increased risk of complications from flu during pregnancy?

Last Reviewed : 12/23/2020
Are you at an increased risk of complications from flu during pregnancy?

Pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing health complications due to flu because their immune system weakens upon conception. The body will start to assign more of its defenses towards protecting the growing fetus so you can carry the pregnancy to full term.

The weakened immune system means you are less able to ward off infections. It means other opportunistic infections can easily attack not just you the expecting mother, but the unborn child as well.

Women who fall pregnant during a time when a nasty flu bug is going around are at an even higher risk of developing complications. Let’s now discuss the possible complications you may suffer if you were to catch a flu bug while pregnant:

Possible flu complications for pregnant women

The type and severity of complication from a flu infection will differ depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy. Here are some complications common at different stages of pregnancy:

First trimester

Fever is the most common opportunistic ailment you are likely to suffer during the first four months of your pregnancy. Your immune system is still fairly strong at this stage. Still, fevers that occur due to flu have been linked to birth defects.

Fevers also increase the risk of miscarriages and low weight babies. The babies whose mothers suffer from flu while pregnant are also prone to developing autism.

Last trimester

Complications in the second trimester do not differ much with those that occur in the first. In the third, however, the infections tend to get more serious. Here are a few that come with serious possible risks of their own:

1. Otitis media (infection of the middle ear).

2. Septic shock (severe drop in blood pressure due to blood infection).

3. Meningitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the covering of the brain and of the brain itself).

4. Endocarditis (inflammation of the inner lining of the heart).

5. Increased risk of preterm delivery.


Treatment options for pregnant women after a flu infection

Flu infections for pregnant women must be treated as soon as they are picked up. Treatment includes general care and the drinking of intravenous fluids and administration of Tylenol.

Prompt treatment with antiviral drugs is also recommended. Oral Oseltamivir, a drug that is safe and beneficial during pregnancy, is the preferred medication of choice.

How to prevent complications from flu during pregnancy

As always, prevention is better than cure. The flu complications we discussed above can be fatal for the mother or the baby. Vaccination for influenza is usually the most effective strategy to prevent infection. The good news is pregnant women are prioritized for vaccination because of their increased vulnerability.

Influenza vaccination has been recommended by national organizations in Canada since 2007. In the United States, since 2004 all women who are pregnant during the flu season must undergo vaccination, irrespective of gestational age.

Immunization during pregnancy is important because of the proven benefits for both mothers and infants. It decreases the risk of illness by 40-60% in infants whose mothers are vaccinated before the onset of the flu season. However, nasal spray vaccines are not recommended for pregnant women, as they contain live strains of the virus.

We can’t emphasize it more strongly, pregnant mothers are at risk and must take every precaution against catching flu. Here are a few other ways of protecting yourself:

1. Wash your hands thoroughly at regular intervals,

2. Disinfect all surfaces to kill the germs,

3. Use tissue towels to cover your mouth and nose when sneezing, and

4. Dispose of all used tissues as soon as possible.


Flu poses real dangers to pregnant women

Pregnancy has enough complications on its own. You have morning sickness, swelling legs, and fatigue to deal with. The last thing you need is a flu infection to opening doors to yet more, usually serious, complications. Get vaccinated and exercise every precaution to stay safe as you await the arrival of your bundle of joy.




1. Yudin MH. Risk management of seasonal influenza during pregnancy: current perspectives. International Journal of Women’s Health. 2014;6:681-689. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S47235.

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