Flu Season Alert: How New moms Can Keep Newborns and Babies Safe

It has been reported that Australia is experiencing a worse than average flu season this year. Since the intensity of the flu in the Southern Hemisphere can be indicative of the severity of the flu season the Northern Hemisphere is facing, some infectious disease experts wonder if the 2017-2018 flu season in the U.S. will be as severe.

At Virtua, a healthcare system that is synonymous with maternal-child health in southern New Jersey, the medical staff is focused on keeping newborns, babies and entire families flu-free.  Jeffrey Seiden, MD, Medical Director of Pediatrics, Virtua Voorhees, CHOP at Virtua, has provided many tips to help new parents avoid exposure to the flu. Dr. Seiden’s tips include:

  • Limiting newborn visits to close family and friends for the first two months of life. 
  • Practicing good hand hygiene with soap and water, and alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • Limiting close face-to-face contact between small children and babies. Allow small siblings and visitors to touch the baby’s feet after washing their hands.Asking frequent visitors and/or caregivers to receive a flu shot.
  • Requiring visitors with symptoms of illness (fever, runny nose, cough, congestion) to refrain from visiting until they are well. 

While it is important to be vigilant to keep newborns healthy, Dr. Seiden said parents also need to carry on with their daily lives. “There is a myth that babies should not be taken out of the house for their first few months of life,” said Seiden. “It is unreasonable to expect new parents to never leave the house with the baby. As long as you follow the common sense rules for infection prevention, it can be very beneficial for everyone in the family to participate in the normal activities of daily life.”

A celebrity couple recently publicized the “Month of Silence” idea during which everyone except the immediate family is kept away from the newborn. Again, Dr. Seiden found this practice, “unnecessary”. “If you follow safety precautions to keep your baby healthy, there is great benefit in sharing the joy of newborn babies with loved ones,” he said.

Virtua nurse and mother of four month-old twins, Gwen Meise, follows specific rules that are designed to keep her children healthy. “As a nurse, I know that consistent and proper hand washing is how we keep ourselves and our patients away from germs and bacteria. Before my children were born, I bought a large supply of hand soap and hand sanitizer that I keep readily available in the house.”

Gwen’s rules also include:

  • Limiting guests to family and close friends when the twins were newborns.
  • Allowing small children to only gently touch the babies’ feet or hair and only after their hands were washed.
  • Requesting that all family and visitors take their shoes off in the house because some bacteria can live on inanimate objects for months.
  • Asking anyone who smokes not to smoke before coming over, not to smoke while here, and to wear a new shirt because second hand and third hand smoke can be a risk factor for SIDs. 

As Gwen surmised, “We are just trying to do everything we can to keep our babies healthy, because twins are tough - let alone sick ones.”

In the event that a newborn/baby does get sick with the flu or another illness, Dr. Seiden explained that the most important thing is maintaining hydration. “In some cases, it can be as simple as providing smaller volumes of fluid more frequently, although some babies may need supplemental oxygen or other supportive measures to help with their breathing which a pediatrician will determine.”

He suggests that parents always monitor their babies for signs of respiratory distress. This usually begins with an inability to drink fluids because they are working so hard to breathe and may not have the ability to breast feed or suck from a bottle. Lack of fluids can lead to dehydration which results in experiencing eight hours without a wet diaper, difficulty waking the baby for feedings, sunken eyes or a sunken fontanel.  If parents are not comfortable with their newborn’s behavior—whether it’s feeding or breathing issues or something just doesn’t ‘feel right’, then the best advice is to have the baby evaluated by a pediatrician or pediatric emergency physician.