How to keep your baby healthy this winter. Plus, the expert advice on making it through the flu season
How can I protect my baby from the flu? And what should I do if she does?
The best way to protect a baby younger than 3 months old is to keep her away from people who have colds. Frequent hand washing also is essential. An infant under 3 or 4 months old who has a fever should see the pediatrician, even if you think it’s “just a cold.” That’s because a virus that causes a mild illness in an older child or adult can be serious for an infant.
If your baby is older than 3 or 4 months and has cold symptoms such as a runny nose and cough with low-grade fever (99°F to 100°F), you can take more of a wait-and-see approach. Call your doctor if you feel you must, says Santa Monica, Calif., pediatrician Jay Gordon, M.D., F.A.A.P. “But as long as your baby will nurse or take a bottle, smile and play a little, don’t make an appointment.” (The converse also is true, Gordon says: If you believe you need a doctor to look at your child, don’t let anyone talk you out of it.)
Keeping her well-hydrated and using a cold-mist humidifier can help her feel more comfortable. If her nose is so stuffed up that she can’t breathe or nurse comfortably, use a baby-size nasal syringe to clear it before each feeding: Never give your baby any kind of over-the-counter or herbal cold remedy without first checking with your pediatrician.
How can I protect my baby from the flu?
The influenza vaccine’s effectiveness rates vary year by year, depending on what strain of the virus is dominant. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the first time is recommending that all healthy children from 6 months to 23 months old, as well as other household members and caretakers, receive the influenza vaccine. The current flu-vaccine shortage obviously affects availability, but you should still ask for a thimerosal-free vaccine; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists vaccines and how much of this mercury preservative they contain at www.fda.gov/cber/vaccine/thimerosal.htm.
Flu season generally starts in December. The vaccine should be received in October or November in order for it to be most effective, Bocchini says. A child under 9 years old who is getting immunized for the first time needs two doses spaced one month apart, so the first dose should be given as early as possible in order for the child to receive the second dose before flu season begins.
The CDC also recommends that women who will pregnant during flu season get the flu shot. However, they as well as children under 5 years old should not get the nasal-spray flu vaccine. For a full list of who should get the shot, go to www.cdc.gov/flu. Pregnant women should consult their doctors if they or their babies or toddlers begin to display flu symptoms, which can include fever, headache, extreme fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Children also can have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Should I continue to breastfeed my baby if I come down with the flu?
Yes; the virus isn’t transmitted via breast milk. However, the CDC recommends that any mother who has the flu take the following steps before feeding and when handling her infant for seven days after the first symptoms appear. For more information on this topic, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/breastfeeding.htm.
1. Put on a surgical mask (they’re available in most drugstores).
2. Wash your hands thoroughly, then dry them with a clean towel or paper towels.
3. If you’re breastfeeding, keep your breasts covered until you have followed the previous steps and are ready to nurse.
4. Do not remove your surgical mask until you have finished feeding and burping the baby and have put her down.
For more information on the seasonal flu and the 2009 H1N1 virus, including breaking news and updates, visit flu.gov.