It’s flu season. And you’re trying to conceive or maybe you’re pregnant. Should you get a flu shot?
For those of you who never get the flu, here is the modern definition: A terrible sickness where you feel like you shouldn’t be able to walk, but somehow you can. For about a week, everything is achy and you get the WORST headache, a sore throat, a cough, a stuffy nose, a stomach ache, and you sneeze and you puke. Great. And it happens to as many as 10 million to 50 million Americans annually.
Fertility and Flu Shots
Honest to goodness, there is really no science to suggest that flu shots affect male fertility. The same is true for female fertility. Not only that, flushots are now being studied for their ability to increase pregnancy rates! Currently, 2 clinical trials are examining whether flu vaccines given outside of the flu season to infertile women undergoing IVF improve embryo implantation rates. Given the millions of flu shots given each year, it’s heartwarming to hear that there is no increased risk of infertility.
Flu Shots During Pregnancy
But what if you’re already pregnant? Is the flu shot safe here too? The short answer is yes. Although a single small study hinted that flu shots might be associated with higher miscarriage rates, the best data suggests otherwise. A well-done cohort study showed that when pregnant women receive flu shots, they are less likely to have premature births and low birth weight babies. Knowing all the evidence, the ever-vigilant CDC continues to strongly recommend that pregnant women get flu shots (but not with the live, attenuated virus).
The Flu and Fertility
A pretty convincing argument for getting a flu shot while trying to conceive or when pregnant comes from looking at what happens when you don’t get the shot. The flu is typically associated with fevers, and fevers kill sperm. So, male fertility is at risk. As the author of a hot bath study that showed the incredible effect of wet heat on sperm, I respect fevers! And, it’s a 3-month hit to a man’s fertility because that’s how long it takes to make a sperm. Infertile women with the flu may have a more difficult time conceiving as fevers interfere with the ability to track basal body temperatures that point to ovulation. So, flus can complicate conception for both sexes; better to avoid them entirely with flu shots.
The Flu and Pregnancy
In the setting of a growing bun in the oven, it’s well known that the flu can make women sicker than if they weren’t pregnant. Pregnancy alters the immune system and significantly stresses the heart and lungs, which can make the average flu much worse and lead to higher chances of being hospitalized. Flu fevers can also affect the developing baby, as they are associated with higher rates of neural tube defects and other adverse pregnancy outcomes. Life is risky enough without the flu, so please do all you can to prevent it.