Does everyone seem to sneeze, cough, or feel unwell? Welcome to the flu season! It is the time of the year when many mothers worry about their babies’ health. But that’s not simply because of a mom’s innate sense of being overprotective of her baby. The truth is, influenza or flu can be life-threatening to very young children. So, moms keep reading to get the right information about the flu and how breastfeeding during the flu season can help your baby from acquiring the flu.
Should you continue breastfeeding during the flu season?
The months of October to May are termed as the “flu season” as the cases of influenza and other respiratory conditions peak during this time. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention strongly advise mothers to continue breastfeeding even if they have flu. They should also continue if they had contact with a person with flu, or if their babies have flu. However, this should be done while following the safety guidelines to prevent the transmission of the viral infection. Breast milk is proven to boost your baby’s immune system. It remains the most excellent source of nutrition for babies up to 6 months of age and beyond.
So if you’re a breastfeeding mom who wants to learn more about how to keep your baby protected this flu season, here is some additional information for you.
Will breastfeeding protect my baby from the flu?
If you want to safeguard your baby’s health from a variety of diseases, then breastfeeding should be your top priority. It has been well-established that mother’s milk contains live antibodies and immune-boosting factors that can help your baby fight infections, and this includes viral illnesses like flu. The benefits of breast milk can’t be matched by any expensive commercially-prepared formula milk.
Breastfeeding is particularly important for babies under 6 months of age as they are too young to receive immunization against influenza. If the mom is immune from influenza, she can passively transfer her antibodies to her baby via breast milk. Through this, the baby gets some protection to fight the viral infection and is more likely to recover at a faster rate.
Can you breastfeed with flu?
The CDC advises mothers to continue breastfeeding even if they got infected with flu. However, she and her baby’s primary caregivers should practice proper sanitation techniques to prevent the spread of infection in the household.
Remember, the flu virus is not transmitted via breast milk. It spreads through direct contact and the body secretions from the infected person. It is also likely to get infected with contaminated surfaces that have been touched by the person’s unclean hands.
If you can directly breastfeed your baby, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before you nurse your baby. Whenever possible, limit close contact with your little one. On the other hand, if you don’t feel well enough to physically breastfeed, then you can regularly express your breast milk where a caregiver can feed your baby. When expressing milk, make sure to follow the CDC guidelines in the proper cleaning of the pump and storage of breast milk to prevent contamination.
Mothers who are sick may also experience a temporary decrease in their milk supply. If you also have this problem, you should seek support from a lactation consultant for ways to increase your milk supply and prevent complications, like mastitis and plugged milk ducts, while you have the flu.
How do I protect my newborn during the flu season?
The most important factor in keeping your newborn safe from flu and other respiratory tract infections is to keep him well-nourished and hydrated. There’s no more efficient way to do it than by breastfeeding.
The next best thing to protect your baby is to prevent the transmission of viruses within your home. Newborns are at a higher risk of having severe complications, so it is best to do everything to prevent him from getting infected in the first place.
Here are some recommendations from health care experts to help protect your newly born baby during the flu season:
1. Hand washing as a precautionary measure
You and your baby’s primary caregivers should wash your hands properly with soap and water and dry them before you touch your baby or any other surface that gets in contact with your baby. This includes his pillows, blanket, towel, mittens, or bibs. Hand washing is proven to be effective in preventing the spread of disease-causing viruses and bacteria. You should also immediately wash your hands right after covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing.
2. Avoid close contact with the infected person
Keep your baby away from people who are showing respiratory disease symptoms like runny nose, cough, fever, or sore throat. If any of your family members or primary caregiver have these symptoms, it is better to limit them from having close contact with your baby. In the meantime, family members should avoid hugging or kissing your baby. If it’s you who show the symptoms, make sure to limit close contact to breastfeeding sessions. If possible, wear a mask to prevent accidentally sneezing or coughing towards your baby’s direction while you are breastfeeding.
3. Using alcohol or hand sanitizers
In addition to hand washing, you can also place a bottle of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in an accessible area within your baby’s room. Caregivers should adequately clean and disinfect their hands before they touch your baby or the surfaces near him.
4. Using and disposing of tissue papers
If someone in your home has symptoms, he must use a tissue paper to cover his nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing. Used tissue papers should immediately be discarded in a covered garbage bin that is far from your baby’s room.
5. Regularly disinfecting household surfaces
Disinfection applies to the most frequently touched surfaces, not only in your baby’s room but also in the whole household. These include doorknobs, floor, cellphones, remote control, refrigerator handles, tables, and chairs. You can use alcohol, bleach, or disinfecting sprays to remove or at least minimize the viruses and bacteria that might be left on those surfaces.
6. Get vaccinated
The flu vaccine is the best way for you to prevent getting infected by the flu virus. Unfortunately, newborns are too young to receive the vaccine. This is also why other family members and caregivers are encouraged to get vaccinated against the flu. Vaccination for pregnant and breastfeeding women is considered safe and recommended by the CDC. Flu vaccines are done yearly for the utmost effectiveness.
If the breastfeeding mom gets the vaccine, she can develop antibodies against the influenza virus. These antibodies can then be passed on to her newborn via breast milk. A study confirmed that after vaccination, IgA antibodies that can neutralize the influenza virus were found in the mother’s breast milk.
What is safe to take for the flu while breastfeeding?
First of all, it is best for breastfeeding moms to seek consultation from a doctor or the nearest health care provider before taking any medications. Aside from flu, many of the respiratory conditions that are circulating during the flu season manifest similar symptoms. Clinical evaluation is important to provide you with a correct diagnosis and treatment based on your condition and individual needs.
1. Taking antiviral medication
If you are diagnosed with flu, your doctor will possibly recommend an antiviral medication that is safe for lactating women. Currently, oral oseltamivir is the treatment of choice since studies confirmed that low levels were found in breast milk, and it is highly unlikely to produce adverse effects.
2. Taking over-the-counter medications
OTC medications can be bought without a doctor’s prescription. They are used not to treat the flu itself but to control its symptoms. However, moms should be vigilant about what they take while nursing their babies.
Generally safe to take
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, acetaminophen (like Tylenol) and ibuprofen (like Motrin, Advil) are generally safe for lactating moms. These medications can be used in relieving pain and fever.
Use with caution
Breastfeeding moms should be careful in using Pseudoephedrine-containing medications for colds. Sudafed, Claritin, and Bromfed contain pseudoephedrine which has been found to decrease milk supply. Health experts usually advise lactating moms to avoid taking combination drugs or the 3-in-1/ 4-in-1 preparations.
3. General recommendations in taking flu medications while breastfeeding
Take medications right after breastfeeding.
This will maximize the time between taking the medication and your next breastfeeding session. It will allow some of its active ingredients to be excreted from your body before you nurse your baby again. However, this may also depend on the type of medication you are taking. Some drugs should be taken with strict timing.
Avoid long-acting medications
According to experts, it is better to avoid long-acting or extended-release medications if you are breastfeeding. These medications stay in the bloodstream for long periods before being excreted from the body. They will increase your baby’s potential exposure to its ingredients.
Observe your baby after taking the medication
Even if most drugs are compatible with breastfeeding, you should still monitor your baby’s response to these medications. If your baby seems to be unusually sleepy, irritable, or has breathing difficulties, stop taking your medication and call your doctor for advice.
Even if the disease-causing viruses typically peak during the colder months, they are with us all year round. The cheapest, most natural, but most effective way to protect your baby, not only during the flu season but throughout the year, is by providing him all the goodness of your breast milk.