Flu season in the United States typically starts in October and runs through March but expectant mothers-to-be might want to take precautions before and after that range of time. Pregnancy puts a woman at increased risk of the flu and catching colds. In addition, pregnant women are more likely to get it, more likely to feel sicker with it, and more likely to experience complications that require medical care.
The very best thing to do is to try to avoid exposure to the influenza virus throughout pregnancy but special precautions during labor and delivery are also advised. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issues precautionary guidance for hospital personnel who work in labor, delivery, and newborn care.
Before and During Delivery
Expect women with the flu should be placed in private rooms. Medical personnel coming into the room will probably wear face masks, wash their hands before and after contact with the patient, and wear protective gowns if coming in contact with the patient’s bodily fluids. If you have a cold or the flu and your medical team does not voluntarily take these precautions, it is perfectly within your rights and advisable to ask them to do so.
The (CDC) recommends keeping a mother with the flu separate from her newborn until her flu symptoms are gone.
When an expectant mother with the flu is transported from her room, she may be required to wear a face mask. Any healthy visitors are advised to do the same. The face mask minimizes the risk of spreading the flu virus via coughing, sneezing, and conversation.
Healthy women without the flu should also feel free to ask their medical attendants to wear face masks and wash their hands before touching her as a precautionary measure, especially if the sound of coughing, sneezing, and other symptoms of the flu or colds can be heard in the vicinity.
Visitors with a cold or the flu should stay away from the hospital until all symptoms are gone.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend keeping a mother with the flu separate from her newborn until her flu symptoms are gone. If breastfeeding is the plan, the mother should consider expressing her milk so a flu-free caregiver can feed it to the baby. The length of separation and discharge from the hospital for both mother and baby will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
When it is impossible for a mother and newborn to be separated, the mother is advised to wash her hands thoroughly before touching the baby, wear a face mask when handling it, and to keep handling to a minimum until signs of illness have passed.
Once mom and baby are home, visitors and family members with a cold or the flu should avoid contact whenever possible. If contact is unavoidable, it is important to follow the same precautions used in the hospital — frequent hand-washing, especially before and after contact with the new mom and baby, and wearing face masks throughout contact.
All pregnant women should consult their doctor about the safety of taking flu vaccines as early in the flu season as possible. Symptoms during pregnancy are likely to be more severe than when not pregnant and the flu can be especially dangerous to a newborn baby. Retroviral treatments might speed recovery and reduce the length of separation time between mother and newborn.
The most important thing to do when pregnant or delivering during flu season is to avoid exposure to the flu virus as vigorously as possible. Avoid crowded rooms, movie theaters, airplanes, public transportation, and other enclosed areas to minimize the risk of catching the flu or a cold.