Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Got the flu? Don't stop nursing!!

You don't have to tell me it's flu season... my supposedly "great immune system" was no match for this bug I've been battling for the past few days. It seems everyone and their mother has come down with some kind of cold or flu bug, and new mothers - their immune systems weakened by a recent birth and subsequent exhaustion - are at risk.

If you have yet to catch the bug, the CDC recommends the flu shot for pregnant women and mothers of infants under 6 months of age. The vaccine is fully compatible with breastfeeding and pregnancy. Though adverse effects have been wildly hyped, a 19-year review by the CDC in conjunction with the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System found "no unusual patterns of pregnancy complications or fetal outcomes" in pregnant women receiving a seasonal flu vaccine. Of course people have legitimate concerns regarding injections during pregnancy, and I'm certainly not qualified to make benefit/risk assessments, so I'd encourage you to discuss any safety concerns with your care provider.

A question I've been getting a lot lately is, if you get the flu, should you quit breastfeeding to avoid exposure to your child?

The answer to this is a vehement no! And here's why.

For one, there's a chance you've been contagious since before you had any symptoms, and even if you weren't, it's highly unlikely that nursing is the only close contact you're going to have with your baby unless you're somehow able to pass off all caregiving responsibilities to someone else. Influenza is extremely contagious, and simply living in the same house with someone who's infected puts your baby at risk.

Even more importantly, if you have caught the flu, your body is busy producing a wealth of antibodies against that specific strain, antibodies that readily pass through your milk to your baby. I can't tell you how many times I hear a story about every adult and child in a family coming down with the flu, but the one breastfed baby makes it through the season without ever showing a symptom despite her/his immature immune system. If baby does become ill, breastfeeding will provide current antibodies to facilitate a quicker recovery. What's more, a baby nursing actively from her/his mother is getting other benefits conducive to healing: skin-level antibodies, plenty of hydration on demand, warmth, comfort, and pain relief.

A sick baby is very stressful and can be scary, and don't let flu-like symptoms go unexamined; if you believe your child is getting sick, consult your health care provider for complete treatment and diagnosis. But remember, breastfeeding will provide comfort and closeness to help you both make it through the season. Just keep nursing!!

Lauren Guy