Infants who are not breastfed are more vulnerable to infection than those who are. If you are healthy, you should breastfeed frequently so your child can receive maternal antibodies, which can help protect her from contracting H1N1.
The flu vaccine is key to protecting yourself and your child from both seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus this season. "If breastfeeding mothers get the vaccine, they will be able to pass on some of these antibodies to their infant," says Dr. Kimberly Giuliano, a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. "This is especially important for infants under 6 months who cannot get the vaccine themselves."
You know it's important to wash your hands thoroughly and often and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, or those of your infant, but there are other steps you can take to protect your child from potentially dangerous germs. "Prior to breastfeeding, wash the breast with soap and warm water and rinse well," suggests Elizabeth Maseth, RN, a lactation specialist at Akron Children's Hospital in Akron, Ohio. "Also, use clean blankets and burp cloths every time the baby needs to be fed or held." It is especially important to pay close attention to these details if your child suffers from a chronic condition such as asthma, diabetes, or a heart ailment.
If you are sick or suspect you may have contracted H1N1 or another flu virus, limit contact with your child until your symptoms subside. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends bottling your breast milk to be fed to your baby by another family member as the chances of passing a viral strain to your infant through your breast milk are small.
Never nurse your baby in heavily trafficked areas. Instead, find a quiet, sterile place to nurse or keep your baby at home as much as possible.
Watch out for these warning signs that your infant may have contracted H1N1 (courtesy of the CDC):
* Fast breathing or trouble breathing
* Bluish skin color
* Not drinking enough fluids
* Not waking up or not interacting
* Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
* Flulike symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
* Fever with a rash
"An infant displaying these symptoms should be evaluated immediately," says Dr. Giuliano. "An infant younger than 2 months who has a fever greater than 100.4 rectally, regardless if other symptoms are present, should also be evaluated immediately."
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