This article originally appeared in the Oct. 1, 2009 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Here at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, we have received a number of questions from parents about H1N1 and seasonal influenza. Here are a few of those questions and our answers.
My workplace expects its employees to get several immunizations regularly. But I’m 5 months' pregnant and scared of what the vaccines might do to my baby. Should I be concerned?
It's best to be vaccinated before your pregnancy when possible, but some immunizations can be given during pregnancy. These include vaccines such as influenza, including H1Ni1 or swine flu (but only the shot made with the inactivated virus), hepatitis B, meningococcus, rabies, and tetanus/diphtheria.
Some vaccines, such as those against measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox, should not be given during pregnancy. A doctor might recommend that a pregnant woman get immunized during pregnancy if all of the following are true:
- there's a good chance that she could be exposed to a particular infection
- the infection would pose a risk to her or the baby, and
- the vaccine is unlikely to cause harm
For example, the flu shot is recommended for women who will be in their second or third trimester of pregnancy during flu season because:
- during flu season, exposure to the virus is high
- pregnant women — especially those in late pregnancy — are at increased risk for severe symptoms from the flu
- the vaccine is safe for pregnant women
Before you get any vaccines during pregnancy, check with your doctor to make sure they are right for you.
My kids have received their yearly flu shot. Does it protect them against the H1N1 flu virus?
The seasonal flu shot does not give much protection against the H1N1 flu virus. They will need the separate H1N1 flu vaccine to be protected against this new strain of flu.
Children and young people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years are at an increased risk for catching H1N1 flu and for developing health problems from it. So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that they be vaccinated. Caretakers of kids younger than 6 months old also should receive the vaccine.
The H1N1 vaccine is not yet available, but should be ready sometime this month (October). Like the seasonal flu vaccine, the H1N1 vaccine will be offered as a shot (injected through the skin) or as a spray mist (into the nasal cavity). Side effects may include soreness or swelling at the site of the injection or mild side effects, such as headache or low-grade fever.
I've developed flu-like symptoms over the last couple of days and I'm worried that I might have the H1N1 flu. Can I still breastfeed?
Yes, you can continue to breastfeed your baby, even if you are taking antiviral medicines for flu-like symptoms. A mother's breast milk is custom-made for her baby, providing specific antibodies that babies need to fight infection. So, continuing to breastfeed your baby can actually protect him or her from the infection that your body is fighting.
While you're sick, however, it's important to expose your baby to as few germs as possible. Babies are at higher risk of catching the flu and having health problems from it. So follow flu hygiene precautions, such as washing your hands often, coughing or sneezing into a tissue (and then throwing it away), and limiting close face-to-face contact with your baby. You might consider wearing a facemask during breastfeeding to avoid coughing, sneezing, or breathing directly into your baby's face.
If you're worried about your baby's risk or are too sick to breastfeed, pump your breast milk and have someone else feed your baby the expressed milk.
For more flu information, visit the KidsHealth Flu Update section of www.cardinalglennon.com. Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of www.cardinalglennon.com.