The 2013 Flu Season: What All Pregnant Women Need to Know

Getting sick during your pregnancy is no fun any time of year, but during flu season -- which is here in full force -- moms-to-be need to take extra precautions to avoid catching the virus.

Pregnant women are more likely to get the flu and to have severe complications from it, thanks in part to the decreased immunity that pregnancy causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What's more, having the flu while pregnant may increase your risk of miscarriage, premature labor and delivery.

With 80 percent of the country now reporting influenza outbreaks, it's critical that pregnant women know how to prevent and treat the flu. Here's what you need to know. 

Get vaccinated. Any woman who is pregnant or will become pregnant should get a flu shot regardless of trimester, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The flu vaccine not only protects a mom, but provides up to six months of protection for her baby as well. "Babies cannot be vaccinated against the flu until they are 6 months old, but they receive antibodies from their mother that help protect them until they can be vaccinated," ACOG says. It's the most important step in protecting against the flu, according to the CDC. It's also safe to get a flu shot when you're postpartum or breastfeeding.

Get the shot -- not the spray. Pregnant women should receive the flu shot -- not the inhaled nasal spray form of the vaccine, according to ACOG. That's because the injection contains an inactivated form of the flu virus, while the nasal spray contains a weakened live form of the bug, which is safe for most people, but not recommended for pregnant women. Some moms-to-be also like to request a form of the flu vaccine that does not contain the preservative thimerosal to be on the safe side, but ACOG states that there's no evidence of any adverse effects in children born to moms who received the standard vaccine with the preservative. (Have more questions? Visit flu.gov or call 800/CDC-INFO.) 

Stop the germs.
Washing your hands frequently with soap and water can help keep germs at bay, according to the CDC. (Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you're not near a sink.) Wiping down counters, faucet handles, door knobs and other high-traffic surfaces with disinfecting wipes or soap and water can help, too. And try to avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth since this spreads infection. 

Call your doctor when you're sick.
 If you think you might have the flu, call your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms. If needed, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication to combat the flu -- the drugs are safe for pregnant women, according to the CDC, and can shorten the duration and severity of the illness. They're most effective when taken within two days of getting sick, so it's important to call your doctor early. 

Treat a fever. Talk to your doctor before taking any medication during pregnancy, but if you have a fever, it's generally recommended that you should treat it with acetaminophen (the medication in Tylenol) to lower it, since a fever early in pregnancy can increase the risk for birth defects, according to the CDC. And call 911 if you experience any of the following symptoms: difficulty breathing, chest or stomach pain, sudden dizziness or confusion, a fever that doesn't respond to acetaminophen or excessive throwing up. You should also seek emergency help if you notice that your baby's movement has slowed or stopped.

Have kids at home? Find out what you need to know to keep them healthy this flu season. 

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