Pregnant Women

Getting a flu vaccine when you are pregnant protects two high-risk people with one vaccine dose – you and your baby. Your antibodies are shared with your baby so that when they are born they have some protection against flu for the first few months of life. Newborns and young infants are more likely to end up in hospital with flu than older children, so the protection they receive from you in the womb could make all the difference. A pregnant woman’s risk from flu increases further later in pregnancy.

The flu vaccine can be given at any time during pregnancy. It is best to be immunised as soon as the vaccine is available, well before the start of winter. It is available until the end of the year. If you’re still pregnant in April of next year, you should also receive that year’s flu vaccine.
If you are in your second or third trimester, you can get the flu vaccine and whooping cough booster vaccine (Tdap) at the same visit. Both immunisations are free for pregnant women.

The flu vaccine has been safely used by pregnant women for many years. Flu immunisation does not increase the risk of miscarriage. However, catching flu can increase the risk.

Your flu vaccine does not cross the placenta into your baby. The vaccine simply helps your own immune system to make protective proteins (antibodies) that can fight off the virus.

There is no increased risk of reactions to the vaccine for pregnant women or their unborn babies.

Breastfeeding

The flu vaccine can be given to a breastfeeding woman. Protecting the mother can help prevent her becoming infected and transmitting flu to her baby. Breastfeeding may offer some protection against flu however, babies will have more protection if their mother is immunised during pregnancy.

Danger of flu to mum and baby

You can catch flu at any time of the year. However, during the winter, there is a greater likelihood of flu viruses being widespread in the community.  

There are several factors that make flu dangerous to an unborn baby. The flu virus does not actually cross the placenta to infect your baby, the danger comes from your own body as it fights the illness

Flu is not a cold. It can seriously harm your health and that of your unborn baby. There are several flu-related complications that can affect baby's development in the womb and can even lead to miscarriage or premature birth.

Physical changes, such as changes in the immune system and difficulty in taking deep breaths, increase a pregnant woman's risk of serious flu complications. New Zealand research shows that pregnant women are nearly five times more likely to be hospitalised with flu than women who are not pregnant. 

Being pregnant and getting flu means you are:

  • at increased risk of pneumonia
  • nearly five times more likely to be admitted to hospital with flu compared to a non-pregnant woman

Flu increases the risk of pregnancy complications, including:

  • premature birth   
  • low birthweight  
  • miscarriage/stillbirth  
  • birth defects.

Pregnancy FAQ

When is the best time to be immunised?

It is possible to come in contact with influenza viruses all year round. However, the likelihood of influenza viruses circulating in the community significantly increases during winter. Influenza immunisation can be given at any time during pregnancy. It is preferable to be immunised as soon as the vaccine is available from 1 April, well before the start of winter.  

It is recommended that women who become pregnant after winter and have not received the current influenza vaccination are offered influenza vaccination up to and including 31 December.

Why is an influenza vaccination recommended every year?

Yearly immunisation is recommended for two reasons: first, because protection from the previous immunisation lessens over time; and second, because the circulating influenza viruses can change and the strains in the vaccine usually change each year in response to the changing virus pattern.

Women who are pregnant across two influenza seasons are recommended to have an influenza immunisation in both of the seasons. In addition to the reasons explained above, a pregnant woman’s risk from influenza also increases as pregnancy progresses.

I am pregnant and want an influenza immunisation but I have a cold. Should I still have it?

If you don’t have a high fever and are only experiencing a cold, runny nose or sniffles, it’s okay to receive the immunisation. However, if you are very unwell, wait until you are better. If in doubt, check with your Lead Maternity Carer, doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

I have a history of miscarriage. Is it OK to have an influenza immunisation?

Yes. Influenza immunisation does not increase the risk of miscarriage. However, catching influenza can increase the risk.

Is the influenza vaccine a live vaccine?

No. The influenza vaccine used in New Zealand does not contain any live viruses. The influenza viruses are completely inactivated and cannot cause influenza.

Are there any preservatives in the influenza vaccine (eg, thiomersal)?

No. The vaccine used in New Zealand is preservative free.

I am pregnant and work with children. Should I have an influenza immunisation?

Yes. Influenza infection rates are generally highest in children, and they are a major source of the spread of influenza. The influenza virus may be found in respiratory secretions (breathing, coughing and sneezing) for 2 weeks or longer in children. Your risk of exposure to the influenza virus is higher and, as you are pregnant, so is your risk of influenza disease and serious complications.

It is also important for all people working with children, and especially young babies, to be immunised against influenza to reduce the risk of passing influenza onto them. 

I have just had my baby. Can I have an influenza immunisation? Will it protect my baby if I am breastfeeding?

It is safe for a breastfeeding woman to have the influenza immunisation. Breastfeeding may offer some initial protection to your baby. However, babies will have more protection if their mother is immunised during pregnancy.

Can I have my free influenza and whooping cough booster immunisation at the same visit?

If you are in your second or third trimester (when the whooping cough vaccine [Tdap] is recommended and free), this can be given with the flu vaccine at the same visit. Both immunisations are free for pregnant women.