Healthy living

Flu (influenza) vaccine in pregnancy – what expectant mothers need to know

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is caused by a highly contagious virus spread primarily through coughing and sneezing.

Symptoms of influenza usually occur 1 to 3 days after infection and may include sudden onset of fever, chills, cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, severe tiredness and loss of appetite.

Complications may include pneumonia, worsening of other illnesses, and death.

Pregnant women who get the flu are at higher risk of hospitalisation, and even death, than non-pregnant women. Risk of stillbirth is reduced by 51% in pregnant women who are immunised against flu. Babies are 25% less likely to be hospitalised from flu-related illness if their mums are immunised against flu while pregnant.

Learn more about immunisation in pregnancy.

Why should pregnant women get the influenza vaccine?

Pregnant women who catch the flu are twice as likely to be admitted to hospital than other people who have the flu.

The Australian Government and Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend that all pregnant women be vaccinated against flu to:

  • Protect themselves Getting the flu can cause serious problems when you are pregnant. Even if you are generally healthy, changes in immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make you more likely to get seriously ill from the flu. Pregnant women who get the flu are at higher risk of hospitalisation, and even death, than non-pregnant women.
  • Protect their baby – When you get your influenza vaccination, your body starts to make antibodies that help protect you against the flu. Antibodies can be passed on to your unborn baby, and help protect the baby for up to 6 months after he or she is born. This is important because babies younger than 6 months of age are too young to get an influenza vaccine. Babies are 25% less likely to be hospitalised from flu-related illness if their mum's are immunised against flu while pregnant. Severe illness in the pregnant mother can also be dangerous to her unborn baby because it increases the chance for serious problems such as premature labour and delivery. Risk of stillbirth is reduced by up to 51% in pregnant women who are immunised against flu. If you breastfeed your infant, antibodies made in response your influenza vaccination may also be passed in breast milk and provide additional protection to your newborn.

The World Health Organisation recommends that pregnant women should receive the highest priority for influenza vaccination.

Is the vaccine safe for pregnant women and their babies?

Yes. The influenza vaccine has been given safely to millions of pregnant women worldwide over many years. Influenza vaccinations have not been shown to cause harm to pregnant women or their babies. Multiple studies confirm normal growth and health in babies with no excess in birth defects, cancers or developmental problems including learning, hearing, speech and vision.

Since 2012, the WA Department of Health has monitored the safety of influenza vaccine in pregnant women and has found no serious safety issues following vaccination.

Can I get the flu from the vaccine?

The influenza vaccine recommended for pregnant women contains proteins from 4 different types of influenza viruses representing the strains most likely to circulate each winter. Inactivated influenza vaccines cannot give you influenza illness because they do not contain live virus. Influenza vaccine is free for pregnant women through the National Immunisation Program.

When is the best time to have the vaccine during pregnancy?

The influenza vaccine can be given at any time during pregnancy. However, protecting women during their second and third trimesters is a priority because this is the time when serious complications from influenza are more likely to occur.

To be optimally protected from flu, you should get the flu vaccine prior to the onset of the influenza season (from May) regardless of what trimester of pregnancy you are in. The peak influenza season in WA is from July to October.

If a pregnancy overlaps two influenza seasons and the woman has already received influenza vaccine in the prior season, she can also receive the current season vaccine later in pregnancy.

Can there be side effects from inactivated influenza vaccine?

The most common side effects after flu vaccination are mild, such as tenderness, redness and/or swelling where the vaccination was given. Some people might have headache, muscle aches, fever, and nausea or feel tired. If these symptoms occur, they usually begin soon after the vaccination and last 1-2 days. None of the common side effects endanger the baby. Sometimes, vaccinations can cause serious problems like severe allergic reactions. Life-threatening allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare, but be sure to tell the person giving the vaccine if you have any severe allergies or if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction following a vaccination.

Are there people who should not get the vaccine?

If you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction after a dose of any influenza vaccine, or if you have a severe allergy to any part of this vaccine, you should not get an influenza vaccine. Tell your doctor if you have any severe allergies.

Signs of a severe allergic reaction can include hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty in breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, and weakness. These would start a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination.

If you think you are having a severe allergic reaction or any other medical emergency that requires urgent attention, call 000 or go to the nearest hospital. Otherwise, call your doctor.

Can I get the influenza vaccine and pertussis vaccine at the same time?

Yes, you can get the pertussis vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time during your pregnancy. You can also get them at different visits. You should wait to get the pertussis vaccine until you are in the third trimester.

What is the WA Health Department doing to assure the safety of vaccines given to pregnant women?

WA Health has a program to routinely monitor vaccinations provided to pregnant women. Talk to your provider if you would like to participate in this follow-up service.

Where can I get the vaccine?

You can get immunised at your GP or antenatal clinic.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor, obstetrician or midwife
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222
  • Phone the Immunise Australia Information Line on 1800 671 811

Last reviewed: 06-05-2019

Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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