Flu in pregnancy is a serious yet treatable illness. Pregnant people are more likely to be hospitalized for the flu than nonpregnant people. When diagnosed early, pregnancy-safe treatments can help reduce symptoms and shorten the length of the illness. The best way to prevent the flu is with an annual flu vaccine, which is safe during pregnancy.
Influenza (flu) is a common respiratory infection that mostly occurs in winter. It’s caused by a virus that easily travels from person to person. When someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or speaks, the virus spreads through the air and on surfaces.
Flu during pregnancy is more likely to cause severe illness than flu in nonpregnant people. Pregnant people who get the flu are also more likely to be hospitalized for treatment. If you're pregnant and have the flu or flu-like symptoms, see your healthcare provider.
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You’re at higher risk of flu during pregnancy than when you’re not pregnant. That’s because pregnancy naturally suppresses your immune system, which is your body’s defense against illness. This suppression increases your risk of infections, including the flu.
Pregnant people who aren't vaccinated against the flu have a higher chance of getting it compared to vaccinated pregnant people. Studies show that flu vaccines lower the risk of flu infection in pregnant people by 50%.
Getting the flu during pregnancy can affect your baby’s development. Fever, a common flu symptom, can cause neural tube defects and other problems in a developing baby.
The same virus causes the flu in pregnant and nonpregnant people. The flu virus infects your lungs, nose and throat, causing respiratory symptoms similar to a cold. You can get the flu by inhaling the virus through the air or by touching something that has the flu virus on it.
The flu is contagious beginning one day before symptoms start and five to seven days after feeling sick. That means you can spread the flu to others before you even know you’re ill.
The most common symptoms of flu while pregnant include:
To diagnose the flu, your healthcare provider may use a flu (influenza) test such as:
Your healthcare provider will wipe the inside of your nose or the back of your throat with a long cotton swab. The test should be quick and painless.
When diagnosed early, your healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral medication. While antivirals don’t cure the flu, they can stop symptoms from getting worse. Many providers prefer the oral antiviral oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) for pregnant people. It has the most studies verifying its safety.
Talk to your provider about other medications you can safely take during pregnancy. These may include:
Flu symptoms can last for a week or more. Make sure to rest and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Take over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen to help relieve symptoms. Follow the instructions on all medications, including prescriptions.
If your healthcare provider prescribes an antiviral, you should start to notice symptom improvement within a day or two. Over-the-counter pain and fever medications can start helping right away.
You should notice an improvement in your symptoms within five to seven days. If you don’t start feeling better after a week, call your provider.
The best way to prevent flu during pregnancy is by getting a flu vaccine, ideally before flu season starts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant people get a flu vaccine any time during their pregnancy.
Many studies have proven the safety of flu shots for pregnant people. Millions of people have been vaccinated over the years. One study found that getting the flu vaccine lowered a pregnant person’s risk of being hospitalized with the flu by about 40%.
Studies also show that the flu vaccine helps protect your baby after they're born. Vaccine antibodies (blood proteins that helps fight viruses in your body) get passed to your baby during pregnancy. After birth, breastfeeding continues to give antibodies to your baby. This protection is important since babies can’t get a flu shot until they’re at least 6 months old.
Pregnant people should also follow general flu prevention best practices:
Yes. Many studies have proven the safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine during pregnancy. It's the single best protection against the flu for pregnant people.
No. The flu shot can benefit your baby during pregnancy. When you get this vaccine while pregnant, flu-fighting antibodies pass to your baby through the placenta. Breast milk delivers those same antibodies after birth, providing more protection from the flu.
With early diagnosis and treatment, many pregnant people recover from the flu with no problems. But those who are pregnant have a higher chance of getting serious complications from the flu — sometimes requiring hospitalization.
See your healthcare provider if you notice any flu symptoms or any symptoms that seem unusual or concerning.
Call 911 or go to the emergency room right away if you have any of these severe flu symptoms:
The best way to take care of yourself (and your baby) is to:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Flu in pregnancy is a serious illness. See your healthcare provider if you notice any signs of the flu. Early treatment with antiviral medications can reduce symptom severity and help you feel better sooner. Getting a flu vaccine during pregnancy is a safe and effective way to protect yourself and your baby. Talk to your provider about getting a flu shot today.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/26/2022.
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