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Flu and pregnancy

Pregnant woman in grey jumper holding belly
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For pregnant women, certain infections and illnesses can be more high risk than they would be normally. The most prominent example is the flu virus, which is most prevalent between December and March, and can result in hospitalisation or cause harm to your baby.

The good news is, there are some simple steps pregnant women can take to stay protected during flu season. The most important thing to do is to get the flu vaccine, which is free to all pregnant women, and safe for women to receive at any stage of pregnancy.

When should I get the flu vaccine if I’m pregnant?

A new flu vaccine is released each year in September. When you become pregnant you should speak to your GP about receiving your free flu jab, as soon as it’s available.

It doesn’t matter when you receive the flu vaccine, as it is safe for women and their babies at all stages of pregnancy. However, you should aim to receive it in October or November before the flu season starts.

Where can I get the flu vaccine if I’m pregnant?

You will be able to get a free flu vaccine from your GP, or from your midwife at an antenatal clinic.

You can also receive the jab for free at certain LloydsPharmacy stores, visit your local pharmacy.

Book your flu jab at LloydsPharmacy

What should I do if I get the flu while pregnant?

If you’re pregnant and you develop flu symptoms you should speak to your GP as soon as possible.  

Can having the flu when pregnant harm the baby?

Unfortunately, yes as your body struggles to fight infections while you’re pregnant. Flu during pregnancy can lead to premature birth or low birth-weight, also new-born babies can catch flu from their mothers. In more extreme cases, it can cause stillbirth or death in the first week after birth. This is why it’s important to contact your GP as soon as you suspect that you have the flu.

How long does the flu last while pregnant?

Most people who catch the flu begin to feel better after about one week.

For pregnant women, the risk of serious complications is higher, and the symptoms may last longer. It is therefore important you contact your GP as soon as possible after symptoms develop.

How can I treat the flu naturally while pregnant?

If you think you have the flu you should speak to your GP as soon as possible. The standard treatment for the flu is to stay home, keep warm, get plenty of rest, and drink plenty of fluids to ensure you’re properly hydrated.

It maybe an option for pregnant women to take paracetamol to treat the symptoms of fever and headache. However, pregnant women should always consult with their midwife or GP first. Products containing ibuprofen must be avoided.

What can I drink to treat the flu when pregnant?

Staying hydrated is really important when you have the flu. You should be drinking enough water to keep your urine light-coloured or clear – if it is dark-coloured or strong smelling this can be a sign of dehydration.

It’s fine to drink hot drinks to stay warm while you have the flu, but just remember that pregnant women shouldn’t consume more than 200mg caffeine each day. As a guide, one mug of tea normally contains around 75mg caffeine.

Should I go to the hospital if I have the flu while pregnant?

The standard symptoms of the flu are fever, aches and pains, tiredness, sore throat, headache and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms can be unpleasant but – provided your GP is aware that you have the flu – they can usually can be managed at home.

However, it’s worth noting that in pregnant women the flu is more likely to cause serious complications such as bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, sepsis and encephalitis.

The general guidance for people with the flu is to call 999 or attend A&E as soon as possible if you are:

  • Experiencing chest pain
  • Having trouble breathing
  • Coughing up blood

Can coughing or sneezing while pregnant hurt the baby?

Coughing or sneezing while pregnant won’t do any harm to the baby, but it may cause more pain and discomfort than it usually would for the mother. This is because coughing or sneezing can trigger round ligament pain, which is where the ligaments around the belly (which have expanded during pregnancy) stretch and tense causing a cramping sensation.

Round ligament pain is not harmful to the mother, but it can be uncomfortable. You can treat it by applying a hot water bottle or taking a warm bath.