flu

Mamas on Bedrest: Did you take the flu shot?

December 21st, 2010

“Every pregnant woman beyond the first trimester and who will be pregnant through flu season should take the flu shot?”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whether or not to take the flu shot, or any shots for that matter, has become quite controversial in American culture. The CDC, ACOG and other medical governing bodies recommend that pregnant women who will be pregnant during the flu season receive the flu shot not only to protect themselves, but to also protect their unborn babies while in utero and  for up to 6 months post partum.

However, many citizens and now even some clinicians question the practice of introducing disease into the body as a way of disease prevention. Many parents have made the decision not to immunize themselves or their children, their decisions based on the belief that Thimerosal, a preservative put into may vaccines to prolong their shelf life and potency, is harmful and a major contributor to the rising number of children developing autism. Opponents of preventive vaccination also believe that the body, when properly nourished and functioning properly, has the ability to ward off the diseases that immunizations are designed to prevent.

While the “healthy”  human adult with a competent immune system is typically able to ward off most diseases, a pregnant woman’s immune system is compromised due to the pregnancy and hence not as able to ward off diseases. Opponents of vaccinations say that pregnancy is not a pathological state and that pregnant women should not be viewed as “ill”. This is true. But one cannot deny the fact that a pregnant woman’s immune system is taxed. Not only is it responsible for protecting the pregnant woman, it is also responsible for protecting the growing fetus. Pregnancy taxes the immune system, stretching its resources so that pregnant women aren’t able to illicit as strong an immune response to diseases as they can when they aren’t pregnant. For this reason, many pregnant women will see flares in chronic conditions such as asthma, arthritis or other chronic conditions which may have been stable for months or even years prior to becoming pregnant. They are also more susceptible to illnesses such as the flu, often developing more severe or even deadly cases.

An impromptu poll of pregnant women shows that they are split about 50/50 for taking the flu shot. It’s interesting to note that women were not at all wishy washy. They either were firm in their decision to take the shot or they were firm in their decision not to take it, so whether or not to take the flu shot is clearly a polarizing issue. The Swine flu was a major determinant for several women. Some women took the flu shot because they were concerned about the severity of the flu that the Swine Flu created. Other women steered clear of this year’s flu shot particularly because it contained Swine Flu. A maternal fetal medicine specialist weighed in stating that after reading the medical literature on the flu shot and treating 2 patients with Swine Flu last year, he recommends the flu shot for all of his patients. On the other hand, a holistic practitioner strengthens her clients’ immune systems with herbs, aromatherapy, homeopathy and other natural remedies.

So what is a pregnant woman to do if she is advised to receive a flu shot but really isn’t sure if she wants to do so? I say, learn all that she can to educate herself and make as informed a decision as possible.  www.cdc.gov has a lot of information about the flu shot and pregnant women. She should have a frank discussion with her clinician and perhaps even an immunologist, see what alternative treatments are available and then decide of the flu shot is for her.

She has to consider her health history. Does she have a strong immune system? Does she usually get the flu when she isn’t pregnant? Does she have any chronic diseases that, combined with pregnancy, leave her at increased risk for developing a severe case of the flu if she is exposed? Is she allergic to any of the compounds that make up the flu shot? (My daughter is allergic to eggs and although her allergist felt that her titers were low enough for her to take the flu shot, she became deathly ill, had a major asthma attack and required prednisone to recover (which took about 2 weeks!). )

If a mama to be has taken the flu shot in the past, how has she fared? Does she get sick from the shot? I personally get deathly ill whenever I take the flu shot, but when I was pregnant and received the flu shot, it was the one time in my life that I didn’t get sick from the shot.

Finally, I suggest that pregnant women and people in general consider the ramifications of not taking the flu shot.  But some of our parents and most likely many of our grandparents and great grandparents (if they are living) may remember what it was like when the flu pandemic hit in the early 1900’s (From 1917 to 1920). Then the culprit was the Spanish Flu and it claimed some 50 to 100 million lives world wide. This flu was different in that it struck healthy, young adults whereas the typical flu affects the very young, the very old and those with compromised immune systems. Some scientists have stated that the Swine Flu has many similar characteristics of the Spanish flu of the early 1900’s.

People in our generation have never really been exposed to major disease outbreaks because in general, people in our culture are well immunized. Some people “gloat” that they don’t immunize their children, but their children are protected by “herd immunity”; with most other people immunized, the diseases that once claimed many young lives are virtually non-existent in our culture. However, it has to be noted that with people choosing to forgo immunizations, we are seeing the resurgence of measles, rubella and other childhood diseases we had once thought we had eradicated.

Whether or not to receive a flu shot is a decision every pregnant mama, not just mamas on bed rest, has to decide for herself and her baby. Take the time to do a bit of research, look at the evidence, consider your health history and talk with your provider about whether or not receiving a flu shot will benefit you or cause you harm. In the end, the best decision is one that is made based on the evidence and after strong consideration of all possible variables.