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Flu shots in pregnancy protect babies from being born too soon, Canadian studies show

Posted by on Jan. 7, 2014 at 3:21 AM
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Flu shots in pregnancy protect babies from being born too soon, Canadian studies show

Canadian studies show that pregnant women who are vaccinated against the flu are less likely to deliver premature or low-birth-weight babies.

Photograph by: © Andres Rodriguez - stock image , Postmedia News

Pregnant women who are vaccinated against the flu are significantly less likely to deliver premature or low-birth-weight babies compared to unvaccinated expectant mothers, new Canadian research finds.

Based on more than 12,000 women in Nova Scotia who gave birth in the immediate aftermath of the H1N1 flu pandemic, the study adds to mounting evidence that the flu can have “really detrimental effects for both mothers and their babies,” said first author Alexandra Legge, a fourth-year medical student at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Yet flu shots remain a notoriously tough sell among pregnant women: of the 12,233 women who gave birth to a live-born or stillborn infant between November 2010 and March 2012, a “disappointingly low” 16 per cent received the flu vaccine during their pregnancy, the researchers said.

As women get closer to their due dates, their immune systems change, making them more vulnerable to serious illness from flu and other infections. That can put stress on the fetus. An earlier study from Nova Scotia showed that women who are admitted to hospital with respiratory illnesses during flu season while pregnant are more likely to deliver babies that are small for their gestational age or have a low birth weight.

The new findings suggest that flu shots help prevent pregnant women from going into premature labour.

Urinary tract infections are known to be triggers for pre-term labour, Legge said. The same may hold true for more widespread  infections.

The theory is that infection with influenza viruses increase the production of cytokines — chemicals secreted by immune cells. These elevated levels of circulating cytokines, in turn, increase the production of prostaglandins, naturally occurring hormones that cause the muscles in the uterus to contract “and that are widely known to play a key role in the initiation of labour,” Legge said.

For their study, the researchers looked at all women who delivered an infant at any hospital in the province of Nova Scotia during the two flu seasons immediately following the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

Overall, the odds of preterm birth (defined as deliveries at less than 37 weeks’ gestation) and lower-birth-weight infants were lower among the babies of vaccinated women.

Babies born prematurely are at higher risk of respiratory and heart abnormalities, intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding within the brain) and infection, all of which increase the risk of death.

Low-birth-weight babies are also at higher risk of dying in infancy than normal weight babies.

Women who lived in rural areas, as well as those with underlying health problems, were more likely to be vaccinated against the flu than single women, women with more than one child and those who smoked during their pregnancy, the researchers found.

Given mounting evidence of the benefits, “both Canadian and World Health Organization guidelines now recommend routine seasonal influenza vaccination of all pregnant women in any trimester,” Legge and her co-authors write in this week’s edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

But while vaccination rates in pregnancy increased during H1N1 (government data suggests that 64 per cent of pregnant women in Nova Scotia alone received the H1N1 vaccine during the pandemic, the authors write) experts worry that it hasn’t translated into higher rates of flu vaccination since.

Many expectant women worry about the safety of flu shots, even though the vaccine, which is made of inactive or killed influenza virus particles, is considered safe in pregnancy, Legge said.

“Another reason I think is that a lot of pregnant women aren’t aware of the risks of influenza itself in pregnancy,” she said. “If there was more awareness of the evidence we have for the potential consequences, maybe pregnant women would be more willing to accept the vaccine.”

Doctors and other pre-natal care providers also need to do a better job of recommending, and offering the annual flu shot to pregnant women during routine pre-natal visits, the authors said.


by on Jan. 7, 2014 at 3:21 AM
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by on Jan. 7, 2014 at 6:52 AM

I didn't get one but I can see why people do.  You may be clean but thee are some nasty people out there with bad hygiene.  We had a lady a work keep complaining about being sick and wouldn't cover her mouth when she coughed ----on me--- and didn't wash her hands after blowing her nose.  This was a few days ago and I haven't gotten sick yet but I have been paranoid. I don't want to give birth while having the flu.  

by Satan on Jan. 7, 2014 at 1:02 PM


by Ruby Member on Jan. 7, 2014 at 2:02 PM
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I don't buy this AT ALL. The flu shot is linked with higher rates of miscarriage. Has been for a while. In fact, the H1N1 flu shot was directly responsible for a 4 times higher rate of miscarriage.

It is completely irresponsible for doctors to push the flu shot on women when the manufacturer themselves say that it is unsafe for pregnant women.
by Platinum Member on Jan. 7, 2014 at 2:55 PM

So now having a flu vaccination is supposed to help ensure a baby doesn't have a low weight at birth? That's just ridiculous. The babies weight and size at birth has to do with what the mother does/does not do and what she does/does not ingest during her pregnancy.  Whether or not mom has a flu shot isn't going to make a difference. Just another scare tactic IMO, make women afraid that if they don't have this vaccination, their child may be born prematurely or too small to be healthy.

by Bronze Member on Jan. 7, 2014 at 8:47 PM

This is BS because my son wasn't born premature cause of me getting a flu shot he was born early becasue of me having preeclampias.

by on Jan. 7, 2014 at 9:20 PM

 I had the flu shot with my first...he was born a month early and weighed 5 lbs.  I didn't have one with my second and he was at least a week late and way to big for me.


by Platinum Member on Jan. 7, 2014 at 10:05 PM
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I'm not quoting every person, but if you want to refute this study, you need to use facts. Anecdotal 'my baby was/was not premature/low birth weight because I did/didn't have a flu shot' evidence doesn't mean anything. There are obviously women who had the flu shot who had full term, normal birth weight babies, does their story make yours less true, or yours make theirs less true?

Use the fact that this was based on only two years data from a relatively small area. That it was after a pandemic flu season.
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by Gold Member on Jan. 7, 2014 at 10:06 PM

I only had one born during that timeframe. No flu shot. She was a week late and just about 9 lbs.

by on Jan. 7, 2014 at 11:05 PM

 I was six months pregnant when we were transferred to an AF Base in Germany. Before we went, our family had to have booster shots and some unusual vaccinations--against malaria, typhoid and cholera, because we were going to a foreign country and because at an AF Base, people are flying all over the world.

 I had them all.

My son was born at 41 weeks, after a really easy delivery, 8 pounds, very healthy and breast fed like a champ. The OB Doctor at the base said he was certain that vaccinations were a benefit to babies in the womb and he was right. My son was and is extremely healthy ( he's 42 now )

There are so many factors involved in pregnancy and childbirth and I really doubt that a vaccination will be detrimental to the health of any of us, in the womb or out of it.  :)

by Gold Member on Jan. 7, 2014 at 11:10 PM
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I had a flu shot when I was pregnant. I didn't think twice about it, people around me were getting sick and I wanted to avoid it. Atticus was born a few days early, and he was small but small babies runs in my family. I am only five feet and 100 pounds myself.


I think all the hoopla about flushots is a bit silly.
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