A suppressed immune system makes pregnant women more vulnerable
The Department of Health has attempted to clarify its guidelines to expectant mothers and parents with children under five on how best to avoid swine flu.
Its advice to practise good hygiene by washing hands and surfaces regularly has been re-issued after a woman with the virus died soon after giving birth.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says all expectant mothers should avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel.
But the DoH says only the "particularly concerned" should consider the advice.
Concern over the effects of swine flu on new and expectant mothers has heightened since the death of Ruptara Miah, 39, in London's Whipps Cross Hospital on 13 July. Her baby is said to be very ill in intensive care.
Another child under six months old, who died in London, is also among the latest victims of the virus.
Swine flu advice for pregnant women from the Royal College of Midwives
The refreshed DoH advice has been given greater prominence on its website.
Health experts say expectant mothers could suffer possible complications if they contract swine flu, such as pneumonia, breathing difficulties and dehydration, because they have suppressed immune systems. Young children are also vulnerable.
Most mothers-to-be with swine flu are being prescribed Relenza, an inhaled antiviral drug which treats the virus without reaching the foetus. However, where it is particularly severe, doctors can offer Tamiflu instead.
The NHS website stresses that most expectant mothers who contract swine flu will only have mild symptoms and recover within a week.
Earlier, advice on the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) website had sparked consternation for suggesting women delay pregnancy, but the NCT has subsequently played down fears.
Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the NCT, said that while the risks for expectant mothers were low, women needed information to make an informed decision.
"If you are pregnant, you are slightly more susceptible to all infections. One of them is swine flu.
"It is important that pregnant women know that - and particularly other members of the population know that - so that they behave responsibly and if they are sick they don't go and put themselves close to a pregnant woman."
Alan Johnson: NCT advice "an overreaction"
The Department of Health said it advised women to plan their pregnancy carefully, but was not advising against trying to conceive.
"Mums-to-be are more vulnerable to any type of flu. It is particularly important that anyone who has existing health problems and is thinking about starting a family should talk to their GP first, as they normally would," a DoH spokesman said.
Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the RCM, said women could not be expected to wait for the first wave of the pandemic to end before trying for a baby.
Speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, Alan Johnson, the new home secretary, said an unexpected aspect of the virus was that it was attacking the young, not the elderly as with seasonal flu.
He called on parents to keep using their common sense, saying the "vast majority" had been following public health advice.
But Elina Trofimczuk, who is pregnant, said she is still confused.
"It is obviously concerning. Also the fact that they're advising us to avoid crowded places, I think that is quite confusing to us, as I work in a busy shopping centre."
Twenty-nine people have now died in the UK after contracting swine flu - 26 in England and three in Scotland.
The government has warned that the number of deaths from the virus this winter in the UK could reach between 19,000 and 65,000.
However, during the 1999 to 2000 winter, seasonal flu deaths reached 21,000 and even during average winters there are normally anywhere between 6,000 to 8,000 deaths.
We asked you whether you were concerned about the effects swine flu might have on expectant mothers. Here is a selection of your comments.
I am in the third trimester of pregnancy, and I am asthmatic. I am concerned that neither Tamiflu or Relenza will be suitable for me if I contract swine flu. Louise, Nottingham
This is such stupid advice. I am pregnant and travel to work every day on a packed Tube. How am I supposed to avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel? It's impossible. I can't just stop going to work can I? Laura, Hertfordshire
My daughter has a 4yr old son who has swine flu, she is 4 months pregnant and worried in case she catches it and it harms the baby, we are also worried about the treatments used in pregnant women. There is to much contradiction going around to know what to believe. Tina, Essex
I am currently 24 weeks pregnant and have been ill and at home for 5 days now with bad cold symptoms. After consulting the doctor by phone I was told it could possibly be swine flu but how am I to know? I am usually very level headed in these situations but not sure that not swabbing pregnant women with symptoms is wise - at least if we know if we have it we can be better informed! Anonymous, Wales
I am 36 weeks pregnant and came into contact with Swine flu last week. I experienced a slight sore throat spoke with a nurse at NHS direct and my GP and was completely reassured that I was fine and not displaying any symptoms. There is definitely some scaremongering going on but if you seek appropriate medical advice your fears can be eased. Jo, Romford, Essex
I have got a 14 month old child and am currently pregnant. I'm very worried we could all catch the virus as a lot of people where we live are getting it. Also it is going round schools where my niece goes. I believe there should be vaccinations soon as possible for young children and those who it could endanger more than others Nikki, Chelmsford, Essex
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