Health experts have discovered a surprising side benefit to the flu shot for pregnant women: It may help boost their babies' weight.
New research by the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta found pregnant women who received the swine-flu vaccine during the 2009 H1N1 epidemic were less likely to have premature babies and more likely to give birth to newborns that weighed more, on average.
"Our findings confirm the importance of receiving the influenza vaccine during pregnancy in order to protect the infant's health," said lead researcher Jennifer Richards. "Previous studies have shown that seasonal influenza vaccination may prevent preterm birth. This study shows that moms who were vaccinated during the H1N1 pandemic were less likely to have premature babies."
Influenza infection during pregnancy has been tied to serious complications, including preterm delivery, Richards and her colleagues noted. Working with colleagues at Kaiser Permanente of Georgia and the Mid-Atlantic States, Richards tracked the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in 3,327 pregnant women in 2009 by comparing births of those who received shot to those who did not.
The results showed that vaccinated mothers were less likely to deliver their babies prematurely and, on average, infants of vaccinated mothers weighed more at birth than those born to unvaccinated mothers.
"There is always an understandable heightened sense of caution by pregnant women," noted co-researcher Saad B. Omer, assistant professor of global health at Rollins and an affiliate investigator at Kaiser Permanente Georgia. "Getting vaccinated has proven to be the best protection. Our study supports the U.S. policy to prioritize pregnant moms to receive the influenza vaccine."
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