What is the New Influenza virus?
The new influenza virus H1N1 (sometimes also referred to as Swine Flu) was detected in people for the first time in the spring of 2009 in Mexico, and later in the USA. The virus is transmitted from human to human, probably in the same way as the better known seasonal influenza is transmitted, i.e. through contaminated droplets from the sick person who sneezes or coughs, and from objects that have been contaminated by secretions of the sick person.
What can I do to protect my baby?
Apply good personal hygiene habits daily.
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap, or with an alcohol based antiseptic solution, before you feed your baby. Wash your child’s hands and toys regularly.
- Cover your nose and your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Teach your older child to do the same.
- If you feel unwell or have symptoms of a cold, see your doctor promptly. Stay at home, avoid contact with others, and wear a face mask when you are near the baby. Avoid rubbing your eyes and nose and touching objects afterwards. Don’t let your baby come into contact with sick or symptomatic people.
- Ensure a smoke-free environment for your child.
- Make sure that your little one has received on time all the necessary vaccines, according to the National Vaccinations Program. New Influenza may result in serious complications from an infection with pneumococcus, hemophilus, meningococcus, measles, if your child has not been vaccinated.
If I am sick with New Influenza, can I breastfeed my baby?
Infants seem to be at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from H1N1 New Influenza. A careful approach in order to protect the baby from exposure to the virus would be:
- Ask for help from someone who is not sick, to take care of the baby, if this is feasible.
- Wear a face mask when you feed or take care of your little one, and wash your hands well.
- Continue breastfeeding, unless someone else can feed your baby with your expressed breast milk. Babies benefit the most from breast milk. It contains antibodies that may offer protection, i.e. the baby will not get sick at all, or will have a lighter form of influenza. It is safe to take antiviral medications while you are breastfeeding.
Does breastfeeding protect babies from New Influenza?
There are many ways in which breastfeeding protects the health of children. A baby who breastfeeds develops a better immune system, doesn’t tend to become obese, and his gastrointestinal and respiratory systems mature more quickly. Babies, who are not breastfed, tend to become ill from infections like influenza more frequently, and more severely, than babies who are breastfed.
Since this is a new virus, we don’t yet know about specific protection against it through breastfeeding. However, it is known that mothers pass protective antibodies to their babies through their milk. These help to fight infection.
If you become acutely ill yourself with New Influenza, someone else, who is not sick, can give the baby breast milk that you have expressed.
Should I stop breastfeeding if I come into contact with a person with New Influenza?
No. Because mothers produce antibodies depending on the germs they come into contact with every day. Breast milk adjusts itself to combat the diseases, to which the baby is exposed, at the same time. This is very significant for infants, whose immune system is still developing. It is safe to take antiviral medications, or get the flu vaccine while breastfeeding. If, however, you develop influenza symptoms, like fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue, and pain in the muscles and joints, you should ask someone who is not sick to take care of the baby.
Can I take medications in order to prevent or treat New Influenza while breastfeeding?
Yes. Mothers, who are breastfeeding and taking medication to prevent influenza, because they have been exposed to the virus, should continue breastfeeding their baby as long as they don’t have symptoms, like fever, coughing, or sore throat. It they are taking medications in order to treat influenza, because they have the illness, they should express their milk, which should be given to the child in a bottle by someone who is not sick.
If my baby contracts New Influenza, may I continue breastfeeding?
You may and you should. One of the best things you can do for your sick baby is to continue breastfeeding.
- Offer your baby lots of opportunities to breastfeed throughout his illness. Sick babies need even more fluids, antibodies, comfort, and love during their symptoms, compared to when they are well. Breastfeeding and breast milk offer all these.
- If the baby is extremely sick and enteral feeding is permitted, he may be given breast milk from a cup, a syringe, or a nasogastric catheter.
The above information is according to the recommendations of the Center of Disease Control of the United States of America, as these were revised in July 2009.
S Papaventsis MBBS MRCPCH DCH IBCLC 2010