Lowdown on Swine Flu
by Charlotte Latvala
This winter, the big worry for new and expectant moms is the swine flu (H1N1.) Don't panic -- but do become vaccinated, says Mary Glode, M.D., a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases. "Expectant and new moms, as well as babies older than 6 months, should receive both the regular seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine," says Glode. Since younger babies can't receive the immunizations, everyone who lives with or provides care for an infant less than 6 months old should have the vaccine.
Nursing is a major advantage for babies during flu season, says Katherine Shealy, the CDC's public-health breastfeeding specialist. "Each mom's milk is custom-made to protect her baby from infections and fight germs," she says. "Also, vaccines given to breastfeeding women provide some protection for their newborns, who can't receive the vaccine themselves."
Further measures to keep H1N1 at bay include meticulous hand-washing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds at a time; avoiding close contact with anyone who's sick; covering coughs with your elbow or a tissue (to avoid spreading germs); and throwing away used tissues immediately followed by cleaning your hands, according to the CDC. Another good precaution: Carry a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and plenty of tissues in your diaper bag. Crowded places aren't necessarily off-limits, but avoid germy shopping carts or buggies. "One of the best ways to prevent exposing infants to other people who may have H1N1 is by keeping the baby close to mom's body," says Shealy. "Carrying babies in a sling or front-pack carrier helps moms keep their baby protected from many germs."
Talk to your health care provider about the correct form of the immunizations. Pregnant women and babies from 6 months to 2 years old should receive the inactivated, or "flu shot" form of the H1N1 vaccine, Breastfeeding moms (who are not pregnant) and children over 2 years old can receive either the flu shot or nasal spray.