Of all the things moms and dads of preemies do for their children, one of the most important is keeping those kids healthy. For parents of preemies who are still quite young – or those with weakened immune systems or fragile lungs – preparing for flu and RSV season and then getting through it is a big part of that. It’s just a fact of life that babies and kids who were born early are more likely to get sick than those born at full term and that illnesses considered “no big deal” for most children can be dangerous or even deadly for preemies.
The end result is that parents of preemies need to spend time thinking about and preparing for flu and RSV season. Those preparations don’t have to be complicated – in fact, a few simple steps can get you and your family through the fall and winter without seeing a single sniffle.
First, wash your hands often, and make sure everyone else does, too. This is literally the easiest way to keep a preemie healthy during flu and RSV season (and all year long). In addition to washing throughout the day, be sure to wash thoroughly after running errands or returning from an outing or work, after shaking hands, after blowing your nose or a cough, and after touching railings in public spaces. Older siblings should be especially conscientious about washing after coming home from school or daycare. Some families go for months at a time without admitting visitors to their homes during the chilly months, but that’s not possible for all parents with preemies. Never hesitate to ask anyone entering your home to wash!
Stay away from crowds, inside and out. Premature babies – and often children who were born premature – simply can’t handle the kind of germ exposure that other infants and kids can. Especially if your pediatrician has recommended avoiding crowds, simply staying home can be your first line of defense during flu and RSV season. As for what a crowd is, moms and dads of preemies are usually cautioned to steer clear of crowded indoor spaces like malls, as well as big family gatherings.
Ask your doctor about Synagis. The RSV vaccine isn’t always available and isn’t always covered by insurance, but your preemie may be eligible for this preventative medication, depending on your circimstances. While not a true vaccine, it can be extremely helpful in preventing rehospitalization due to respiratory infections and breathing difficulties.
Make sure everyone in your family has an up-to-date flu shot. This is especially important if your preemie is less than 6 months old and thus not eligible for the seasonal flu vaccine. If your entire family is protected from the flu, you effectively pass that protection on to your premature baby if you practice good hand washing habits..
Consider in-home childcare if childcare is a necessity. As clean as they are, daycare centers can nonetheless be hotbeds of germ swapping. For babies and children born full- term, a passing infection might mean a case of the sniffles. For a preemie, it can mean a trip to the hospital and complications that go beyond a cough. However, parents of preemies often find that work is an absolute necessity for both moms and dads, in which case having a nanny or relative providing care in the home is worth exploring.
How are you preparing for flu season and RSV season this year?