The flu is a nasty virus and it can be a very dangerous one. When you get a flu shot, you're protecting more than just yourself - you're defending those who can't defend themselves.
Babies don't develop their own immune system until at least 6 months of age. For this reason, there are certain rules in hospitals during flu season - particularly in the mother-baby unit and NICU. We talked to Dr. Madiha Khan, an Obstetrician at TriHealth, about what those restrictions are and why they exist.
"We need to provide a safe environment for our patients," Dr. Khan says. "The restrictions that we have are no visitors who have respiratory illness meaning coughing, sneezing."
The rules get a little tighter in the mother-baby unit: not only are those with respiratory illness not allowed to visit, healthy visitors of a certain age need to show proof of a flu shot.
"For siblings of newborns [that are] under the age of 14, they are able to visit they just need to show proof of vaccination and that needs to be done two weeks prior to their visit," Dr. Khan says.
But that doesn't mean parents and other visitors are completely off the hook. Babies rely on us to help keep them healthy during the first few months of life, and the best way to protect them and the entire family from the flu is to get vaccinated early. According to Dr. Khan, it's best to get vaccinated before the official flu season even starts to ensure it has time to take effect before the virus starts spreading.
In the NICU the babies are already ill and recovering, so it's vitally important that everyone who will be around them is vaccinated. "Any expecting moms, any dads, any siblings, or anyone who's going to be near these newborns should get the vaccination," Dr. Khan says.
Once babies leave the hospital, they still rely on others to keep them healthy. Even if you're not making a hospital visit any time soon, getting a flu shot now will protect you and any tiny humans you might come in contact with this season (read: Your cousin's adorable new baby being passed from family member to family member on Thanksgiving).
The rule of thumb to take away from this: if you or someone you love is expecting a tiny addition to the family during flu season, you should get vaccinated.