The flu vaccine is safe throughout pregnancy. Not only can it help a mom-to-be avoid dangerous flu complications, Baker adds, but it can guard her new arrival, too. The mother’s antibodies are passed on to the newborn, she says, and can remain effective two months or more after birth. “Mommy can give her immunity to her baby. It’s like a gift,” says Baker.
Anyone else who will be regularly caring for or spending time with your baby should be immunized as well, recommends Jillian Parekh, MD, attending pediatric physician at Montefiore Medical Center’s Family Care Center in New York.
That includes grandparents and older siblings. “People might think it’s an outrageous request, but you have to have your infant’s best interests in mind,” assures Perekh.
Stop the spread
Besides vaccination, doctors advise that the best way to guard against the flu is to prevent it from spreading. Influenza is passed person-to-person through coughs, sneezes and, unfortunately, kisses.
“Wash your hands often, and make sure anyone holding your baby does, too”, says Deborah Mulligan, MD, director of the Institute for Child Health Policy and clinical professor of pediatrics at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough—and then throw that tissue away. “We all know people who are compulsive about cleaning. That’s a good thing during flu season,” says Mulligan, who also serves as chief medical officer of MDLIVE, a tele-health company.
Of course, you should do your best to keep your newborn away from anyone who’s sick. And if you come down with the flu? “That might mean dad or grandma or grandpa have to pick up some of the responsibilities,” Baker says. But, she adds, if you’re up to it, breastfeeding is still safe, even if you’re taking antiviral medication. It’s also a natural way to boost baby’s immune system.
No flu-prevention effort is 100 percent effective. Even if you’ve done everything you can, you or your baby might still get sick. Call your pediatrician if you suspect your little one has the flu, advises Parekh, and know that symptoms can seem a lot like those of the common cold: “They might have a fever, a cough or just really not seem like themselves.” Poor feeding, vomiting and diarrhea can be signs of the flu in infants as well.
Even if your baby doesn’t have any symptoms, let your pediatrician know if someone else in the house has the flu, advises Parekh. As a precaution, your doctor might decide to treat your baby with the antiviral medication Tamiflu.