WEDNESDAY, Sept. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women should get a flu shot to protect themselves and even their newborn from the flu, experts say.

Pregnancy increases the risk of serious complications of flu, such as bacterial pneumonia and dehydration, according to the March of Dimes.

Not only does getting vaccinated offer protection from the flu for moms-to-be, the vaccine can also confer protection to the baby once it's born, said Dr. Alan Fleischman, March of Dimes medical director.

"The flu vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective. As an added bonus, during pregnancy, mothers pass on their immunity, protecting babies in those early months of life," said Fleischman in a March of Dimes news release. "We urge all pregnant women, and women who expect to become pregnant, to get their influenza immunization because the flu poses a serious risk of illness and even death during pregnancy."

During pregnancy, normal changes to women's immune system, heart and lungs make them more vulnerable to the dangerous complications of the flu. One out of every 20 deaths in 2009 from H1N1 was a pregnant woman.

Despite this increased risk, only half of all expectant mothers received the vaccination during last year's flu season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pregnant women can take additional steps to protect themselves from the flu by:

  • Staying home when ill and avoiding contact with other people who are sick
  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your arm, not your hands
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Washing your hands with soap and water often.
  • Using hand sanitizers at work or in public places.
  • Thoroughly washing dishes and utensils.
  • Avoiding sharing dishes, utensils, drinking glasses or toothbrushes.

The March of Dimes noted that anyone who lives with a pregnant woman or has regular close contact with one should also be immunized. The group also advised that any expectant mothers who experience flu-like symptoms seek medical attention right away.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on the flu and pregnant women.