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It is important to protect your baby from the flu, because the flu virus (influenza) can be much more serious in babies and young children than it is in adults.
There are a number of steps you can take to diminish your baby’s chances of infection, and also to protect him or her from the flu if you or another household member has become infected.
If your baby does develop symptoms of the flu, it is key to seek medical help promptly to prevent (and treat) any possible complications.
Diminishing Your Baby's Chances of Infection
Get your baby vaccinated against the flu at six months of age.
The earliest age that a baby can receive a flu vaccine is at six months.
It is highly recommended by doctors to get your baby vaccinated at this time, because catching the flu at a young age can be much more serious than it is for older children and adults.
Prior to the age of six months, when your baby is not vaccinated, it is advisable to take extra precautions to prevent him or her from catching the flu.
Ask your doctor for your own flu vaccine.
In addition to getting your baby vaccinated as soon as he or she is old enough (at six months of age, and every year thereafter), you (and anyone else living in the same house) should also get immunized.
The purpose of this is that it reduces the chances that someone living in the home will catch the flu.
Your baby is in turn at reduced risk if the people around him or her are not sick with the flu.
There is a new flu vaccine available every year that is tailored to the strains of the flu virus that are expected to be most prevalent for that year.
You can receive a flu vaccine annually at your family doctor’s office or local pharmacy or health department.
Do not allow sick guests in the home.
While your baby is young (under six months of age), it is important to set a strict rule to not allow any sick guests into the home.
If a relative or friend wants to visit and see your baby and he or she is ill, explain that you do not want to put your baby at an increased risk of catching the flu.
It is okay for guests to visit once your baby’s fever has been gone for at least 24 hours (without the use of medications that reduce fever).
Try to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months.
In an ideal world, every mother would be able to breastfeed their baby exclusively for the first six months of his or her life.
This is because the medical and health benefits of breastfeeding are numerous.
Breastfeeding transfers antibodies (which help to fight off any type of infection) from the mother to the baby;
without breastfeeding, your baby would not have access to these antibodies at such a young age, as his or her immune system would not yet be sufficiently developed.
Therefore, breastfeeding can help to prevent the flu as well as helping to combat any other type of infectious germs your baby may come into contact with.
If you cannot breastfeed exclusively, even breastfeeding part-time is better than not at all.
Another option is to pump breastmilk and to store it for later use, such as when you are at work and unable to breastfeed your baby in person.
Keep your baby relatively isolated for the first two months of life.
Your baby is especially vulnerable to infections in the first two months of life, before he or she has received any of the standard vaccinations.
During this time period, keep your baby at home as much as possible in an effort to avoid unnecessarily exposing him or her to germs that could lead to a potentially serious infection.
See a doctor when needed.
If you do notice your baby developing signs of an infection (such as a fever, a cough, lethargy, a poor appetite, etc.), book an appointment with your family doctor.
Due to the possibility that an infection could be more serious in a baby, it is important for your baby to be evaluated by a doctor.
If it does turn out to be the flu, the doctor will likely offer anti-viral medications (Tamiflu) to help your baby’s immune system fight off the infection.
Keep in mind that the flu is more common in the United States during the months of November through March.
Protecting Your Baby If You Have The Flu
Wash your hands regularly.
If you have come down with the flu and want to avoid passing it onto your baby, it is key to wash your hands regularly.
Washing with warm water and soap for 30 seconds is advised, especially before touching your baby or any of your baby’s toys or other items.
If washing regularly with soap and water is challenging for you, another more convenient option is to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer – you can carry this with you in your purse during outings and throughout the day.
Also wash your hands before working in the kitchen and preparing your baby’s food.
Cover all coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
Experts have hypothesized that the primary mode of transmission of the flu virus is via respiratory droplets.
This means that if your baby (or anyone else) is within 6 feet of you when you cough or sneeze, he or she is at high risk of picking up the infection.
This is why it is so important to cover all coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
Using a tissue is preferable to using your hand, as this way your hands do not get contaminated with the infectious droplets.
The flu virus can also be transmitted from touching contaminated objects;
however, respiratory droplets are the most common mode of transmission.
Clean and disinfect any shared surfaces.
If you are sick with the flu, it is important to regularly clean and disinfect any shared surfaces thoroughly.
This helps to prevent the transmission of germs not only to your baby (if you are touching any of the same toys or objects), but also to anyone else who may be living in the home (as the less people in the home who become sick the better).
For this reason, be sure to clean doorknobs, countertops, and kitchen appliances, and to change the linens and bathroom towels that you have been using.
Seeking Medical Treatment
Be aware of the heightened risk of flu-related complications.
When an older child or adult catches the flu, it is usually not that big of a deal.
Symptoms last for approximately one week, and normally resolve after that without needing any medical help or interventions.
For babies and young children, however, it can be a different story.
Approximately 20,000 children under the age of five in the United States are hospitalized for flu-related complications every year.
The younger the child, the greater the risk of flu-related complications.
Have your baby treated with Tamiflu (an anti-viral flu medication).
If your baby or young child has the flu, it is important to bring him or her to a doctor immediately.
This way, he or she can receive anti-viral treatment, which reduces the risk of complications and reduces the length of time your baby will be sick.
Watch for complications from the flu.
Complications are much more likely to develop from the flu in babies than in adults.
Complications that may arise as a result of the flu virus include:
Pneumonia (an infection that progresses to the lungs)
Ear and sinus infections
Worsening of any other health conditions your baby may have
Rarely, the flu can lead to death in babies, which is why prompt medical attention and appropriate treatment is key.