Saturday, May 02, 2009

The "Swine Flu" and Pregnant/Breastfeeding Women

The CDC yesterday issued some guidance for healthcare providers in treating pregnant and breastfeeding women who have or may have the swine influenza A (H1N1) virus. The CDC notes that the flu can be more severe in pregnant women, with a higher risk of complications for the baby, especially if the mom develops pneumonia.

On the subject of breastfeeding, the CDC's advice - which is applicable for pretty much any illness, not just the flu - is as follows:

Infants who are not breastfeeding are particularly vulnerable to infection and hospitalization for severe respiratory illness. Women who deliver should be encouraged to initiate breastfeeding early and feed frequently. Ideally, babies should receive most of their nutrition from breast milk. Eliminate unnecessary formula supplementation, so the infant can receive as much maternal antibodies as possible.

If a woman is ill, she should continue breastfeeding and increase feeding frequency. If maternal illness prevents safe feeding at the breast, but she can still pump, encourage her to do so. The risk for swine influenza transmission through breast milk is unknown. However, reports of viremia with seasonal influenza infection are rare.

It is important to note that by the time a woman shows symptoms of an illness, her baby has already been exposed, so she should never stop breastfeeding or be separated from the baby when sick. There are only a couple notable exceptions to this rule - tuberculosis and HIV come to mind. But for almost all diseases, a sick mother should breastfeed more, not less.

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