Pregnant women are about six times more likely to die from the seasonal flu than other people, according to a panel of experts recently convened by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And getting the annual flu vaccine during pregnancy not only protects the mom, but safeguards the newborn, too, they said.  

Yet new data from the CDC show that vaccination rates overall, including for pregnant women, have remained below targets in recent years: Only about half have reported receiving the influenza vaccine. And rates are especially low among pregnant Hispanic and African-American women, the CDC said. 

The CDC wants those numbers to go up, emphasizing that everyone older than 6 months should get the vaccine this year, especially if you’re expecting. Here’s why.  

1. New Moms Need Extra Protection

Pregnant women and those who have recently given birth are more likely to become severely ill, hospitalized, or even die from the flu because of numerous changes to the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy. That makes it extra important for them to get vaccinated.  

2. It May Protect Newborns

Newborns are extra vulnerable to the flu, in part because babies aren’t supposed to get vaccinated until they are at least 6 months old, said Patricia N. Whitley-Williams, M.D., vice president of NFID and division chief of Pediatrics at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “I can tell you I’ve seen firsthand the devastation that influenza and its complications can cause, particularly in children.”

But women who get vaccinated when they are pregnant may pass their immunity along to the fetus, so the child is born with some protection. Two studies—one published in 2008 and the other in 2014, both in the New England Journal of Medicine—found that infants born to women who had been vaccinated during pregnancy were much less likely to develop the flu or other respiratory illnesses.

In addition, if new moms (and everyone else in the household) get vaccinated, it makes it much less likely that they will develop the flu and pass it along to their baby. 

“By vaccinating pregnant women, we also have an opportunity to protect the newborns,” Whitley-Williams said. 

3. It Can Prevent Early Deliveries

Getting the flu while pregnant increases the risk of an early labor, which can be harmful to the baby. But recent research suggests that getting vaccinated while pregnant can mitigate that risk. For example, a 2016 study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found pregnant women vaccinated against the flu reduced the risk of preterm birth during peak flu activity by about 20 percent. The study also found that their risk of preterm birth dropped an additional 4 percent each week after vaccination.

“Emerging research suggests that women are protected from preterm delivery if they get the flu vaccine when they’re pregnant during an especially bad flu season,” said Kevin Ault, M.D., an associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine and one of the participants in the recent CDC-sponsored expert panel on the flu. “There are benefits to the mother and to the newborns.” 

4. The Shot Is Safe for Moms

Some mothers worry that the flu vaccine somehow poses special risks to pregnant women. It doesn’t. “The flu vaccine is very safe for everyone, and that includes mothers,” said Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports' chief medical adviser. Side effects in pregnant women are typically mild and are the same as those for everyone else: pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site; as well as fainting, fatigue, fever, headache, muscle aches, and nausea.

And it’s just as effective in them, too, according to a 2013 study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. It found that between 2010 and 2012, the vaccine reduced the risk of flu in pregnant women by about half. 

Tips for Getting the Shot

It does not matter when during your pregnancy you get the vaccine, or whether you get it at your doctor's office or at a pharmacy—just that you get it.

Ideally, you should get your shot before the end of October. And note that while some people are attracted to the idea of a nasal spray form of the shot, the CDC no longer recommends that form of the vaccine.