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Although flu may seem trivial to adults, flu to a newborn under two months old can be dangerous. (Shutterstock/File)
A mother in England shared a story about her baby who caught herpes from a relative who went to see the newborn. Not even three months old, the baby had to be hospitalized and the doctors struggled to save the infant from liver and brain damage. What can we learn from this?
A baby’s immune system at a glance
In the first three months of pregnancy, antibodies from the mother are transmitted to the baby through the placenta. This is called passive immunity: as babies are yet to develop their own functioning immune system, they use their mothers. The types and amount of antibodies the baby receives depends on the mother’s immunity. Immunity in the newborn is only temporary and will decrease after a couple of weeks to a couple of months.
Breast milk contains an adequate amount of antibodies, especially in the colostrum. Babies that are exclusively breastfed will have a longer passive immunity compared to those who aren’t breastfed at all. Prematurely born babies have a weaker immune system, as they have fewer obtained antibodies from their mother. Therefore, immunization after the first couple of months is needed to form the baby’s own immune system.
Diseases that adults can transmit to newborn babies
Although flu may seem trivial to adults, flu for a newborn under two months old can be dangerous. This is because babies have not yet developed their own immunity and still depend on their mother’s antibodies. Some diseases that we need to be aware of when it comes to newborn babies are:
Flu: Runny nose, coughing and fever are symptoms of flu. If you observe any of these symptoms in your child while they are still under six months old, immediately go to the doctor because, as the baby’s breathing and chewing reflexes are still undeveloped, your baby might have a hard time consuming milk if their nose is clogged. You can try to clean it out and keep the room at warm temperature, but do not let a baby sleep with their head higher than the rest of their body or in a sitting position. According to pediatrician Dr. Mary Ian McAteera, as reported by Parents.com, that position is hazardous to a newborn baby.
(Read also: What to know about acid reflux in children)
Respiratory syncytial virus: This disease, which has symptoms similar to flu, can infect a child’s lungs and cause bronchiolitis or even pneumonia. If your baby shows visible signs of breathing difficulties (chest area pumps abruptly and significantly when breathing), immediately bring your baby to a doctor.
Digestive issues: If your baby has diarrhea and vomiting, chances are your baby has caught a stomach flu. An infant should recover from this illness in a few days. Make sure your baby isn’t dehydrated by feeding them breast milk as often as needed. If you see signs of dehydration and other uncommon symptoms (baby looks in pain, no appetite, blood either in feces or vomit, not urinating as often as it used to, etc), immediately consult a doctor.
What you can do to protect your newborn
There are many things you can do to prevent your baby contracting contagious diseases
Keep a distance between newborns and those who are sick
It is very common to have a lot of visitors after you give birth. Ask them to keep their distance especially if they have something contagious. Don't forget, flu that is harmless for adults may be very dangerous for newborns. Also ask them not to sniff or kiss your baby. Like in the case above, viruses like herpes can be transmitted through saliva and oral membrane. People who suffer from herpes may not realize that they are infected. Flu can also be transmitted through saliva, so it’s best to take preventive actions. If a relative wants to hold your baby, ask them to use a protective mask provided specially by the hospital, and don’t forget to ask them to wash their hands first.
Fulfill your baby’s nutritional needs
One of the best ways to maintain a baby’s health is to fulfill their nutritional needs, primarily after the first six months, because in this age babies can start to be given solid food. Fulfill their nutritional needs by providing them with foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Those types of nutrients can protect the cells working to build the immune system. Avoid foods that can hinder the development of their immune system, such as foods that are rich in sugar and fats. Reduce the consumption of fruit juices or any other packaged foods that often contain a large amount of sugar.
Make sure your baby gets enough sleep
Some research reveals that children who don't get enough sleep do not respond to flu as expected. Our body's immune system also does not function well if we’re lacking sleep. Newborn babies can sleep up to 15 hours a day; let them sleep and don’t intentionally wake them up.
Breast milk contains antibodies that help build a baby’s immune system. The risk of babies contracting ear and throat infections decreases to 63 percent when babies are given breast milk exclusively for six months. Babies who are given only breast milk also rarely catch respiratory infections or stomach flu.
Maintain good hygiene
Other than washing your hands, don't forget to maintain sanitation around your baby. Always prepare hand sanitizer primarily for visiting guests. Surfaces can also transmit bacteria and viruses of various diseases. You can sanitize them with wet tissues containing antiseptic. (kes)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.