Bartholin's cyst- a rather commmon cause of vulvar discomfort

Near the introitus (that is, the opening of the vagina, but we need to talk in proper medical terms, this is not a cosmopolitan blog…), there are two glands, one on each side, just behind the labia. They are called Bartholin glands, named after a Danish anatomist, Caspar Bartholin in the 17th century.

They are small, you cannot palpate them and they produce a thick secretion, in order to lubricate and protect the lining of the vagina. They were thought to be related to lubrication during sexual arousal but, alas, their contribution is minimal. The glandular fluid enters the vaginal epithelium through a narrow tube, the duct.

Occasionally, for unknown reasons, the duct will get blocked and the sticky fluid will accumulate within the gland and the gland will  become swollen. This is a bartholin cyst, and it affects 2% of women, mostly aged between 20 and 30. It may be asymptomatic, with just a local swelling and minor discomfort. If the cyst becomes infected, it then becomes an abscess, very tender indeed, the patient may find it difficult to walk and it needs urgent treatment.

It is not related to sexual intercourse and don’t blame your partner for transmitting the infection- there are many other reasons to blame your partner but not Bartholin issues.
It is equally not related to poor hygiene, tight underwear, sweating, swimming, the duct somehow decides to block itself and there is nothing you can do to prevent it from happening- frequent question when someone already suffered from one gland and wishes to avoid trouble from the other side in the future.

We tend to give a short course of antibiotic when a cyst appear, to prevent infection and this may delay the process but eventually things will get worse. The cyst will need to be drained and ideally a new duct should be surgically created. This procedure is called marsupialisation ( from Latin marsūpium, from Ancient Greek μαρσίππιον (marsippion), diminutive of μάρσιπος (marsipos, pouch))- yes, blame the Greeks for everything…  This is a minor operation, it needs anaesthetic and it involves exteriorisation of the gland internal to the vaginal lining so that the fluid will readily be expelled in the future.

It is therefore a rather nasty situation but it is benign and will not affect your future sex life or fertility. Having said that, in older women (above the age of 40) we have the extremely rare bartholin gland cancer, so all labial swellings should be reviewed by a gynaecologist.

To summarise, when in pain, see your doctor and blame Caspar Bartholin …  


Epidural in emergency caesarean is good for the baby

General Anesthesia Increases Adverse Outcomes in Urgent Cesarean Delivery CME

News Author: Ricki Lewis, PhD
CME Author: Laurie Barclay, MD
CME Released: 07/05/2012; Valid for credit through 07/05/2013

GA: General Anesthesia
RA: Regional Anesthesia

Babies exposed to GA during urgent delivery by cesarean delivery are more likely to experience adverse outcomes than those exposed only to RA, according to a study published online June 8 in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Past studies have indicated that RA is safer for the mother than GA, but anesthesiologists must consider the benefit of GA in shortening labor, the authors write. This study indicates that RA is associated with better outcomes for the neonate, and therefore may be less risky than GA for this reason.

From Medscape Medical News


Light Drinking During Pregnancy Not Harmful to Offspring?

October 7, 2010 — Children born to women who drank 1 or 2 alcoholic beverages a week during pregnancy were not at increased risk for clinically relevant behavioral or cognitive problems at 5 years of age, a new study shows. However, investigators and at least 1 independent expert say these findings should be interpreted with caution.
In fact, "children born to light drinkers seemed to have fewer behavioral problems and higher cognitive scores than those born to moms who didn't drink during pregnancy," study investigator Yvonne Kelly, PhD, from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, United Kingdom, told Medscape Medical News.


Official Report Confirms Pregnant Women at Increased Risk for H1N1 Death

April 20, 2010 — Pregnant women infected with the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus are at increased risk for death compared with others, but treatment within 2 days of symptom onset decreased this risk, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published in the April 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Pregnant women represent approximately 1% of the US population, yet they accounted for 5% of US deaths from 2009 influenza A(H1N1) reported to the CDC," the researchers write.


A Third Study Finds Bisphosphonates Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Zosia Chustecka

March 10, 2010 — A third study, and the first to be published, has found a reduction in the risk for breast cancer among postmenopausal women taking bisphosphonates for the treatment of osteoporosis.
The new finding, reported in the March 2 issue of the British Journal of Cancer, comes from a case–control analysis of more than 6000 women in Wisconsin, half of whom were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. It found that the use of bisphosphonates was associated with a 30% reduction in the risk for breast cancer.
"This large study provides new evidence that the use of bisphosphonates is associated with a potentially important reduction in breast cancer risk," lead author Polly Newcomb, PhD, MPH, head of the Cancer Prevention Program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, said in a statement.


Exercise delays cognitive impairment in old age

From MedscapeCME Clinical Briefs

Exercise May Improve Cognitive Skills in Older Population CME

News Author: Deborah Brauser
CME Author: Hien T. Nghiem, MD
February 3, 2010 — Participating in a sustained exercise program may decrease cognitive decline in patients older than 55 years, according to results from 2 new studies published in the January 25 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
In a cohort study from Germany, investigators found that moderate or high physical activity was associated with a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment in patients older than 55 years.


Pregnant women haven't lost it after all
February 11, 2010 — It appears that the image of the dotty pregnant woman or the scatterbrained new mom is just an urban myth. New research shows that there is no evidence of cognitive decline during pregnancy or after giving birth.
"Pregnant women and new mothers might be distractible, but when the power of their intelligence is turned to a task, there’s absolutely no evidence that they’re impaired relative to nonpregnant women," lead Helen Christensen, PhD, Australian National University, Canberra, told Medscape Psychiatry.
Obstetricians, family doctors, and midwives may want to take note of these findings that suggest that "placenta brain" is not inevitable, she said.
The study is published in the February issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.


Pregnancy and childbirth- vital do's and dont's

Pregnancy and childbirth is an amazing period of your life, with plenty of excitement and worries and eventually some unforgettable memories. We aim to provide careful monitoring and constant reassurance so that will be confident and relaxed to enjoy your pregnancy.

We count a total of 40 weeks, starting on the day that your last actual period began.
You obviously did not get pregnant on that day, but approximately 2 weeks later, upon ovulation, and the actual duration of the gestation is therefore 38 weeks. Still, we use your LMP (Last Menstrual Period) as a defining point, as cycle duration varies and it is frequently impossible for you to know exactly when you conceived.

Your first visit at the Practice is vital. Your period may be late and you are not certain what’s going on. We will confirm your pregnancy status and with pelvic ultrasound (which is absolutely safe) we will make certain that this is a healthy intrauterine pregnancy, thus ruling out a threatened miscarriage or an ectopic.
We will then sit down, take a deep breath and talk about the next 9 months, how your pregnancy will be monitored and exactly which investigations may be needed. We will discuss common pregnancy symptoms and worries, no matter how insignificant they may seem. You will leave the office relaxed, confident and jubilant.

We may need to repeat the scan to confirm that the pregnancy sac keeps growing and eventually the fetal heartbeat becomes obvious. I will also suggest some blood tests that will rule out infections such as rubella (german measles) and hepatitis. Some of those sound strange and offending, such as syphilis and HIV. Trust me, this is a universally accepted screening package in pregnancy and all those diseases, if promptly diagnosed and treated, can save your baby’s life.
An early visit to the Dentist will be advised. Your teeth and gums are sensitive in pregnancy and any kind of oral cavity infection can later be related to premature contractions and labour. Any dental work should therefore be carried out promptly, with the appropriate local anaesthetic. I would only wish to avoid a dental X-ray in pregnancy.

The first trimester, up to 12-13 weeks, can be rather difficult. Headaches, morning sickness and vomiting, swellings, mood swings, you name it. There is also a continuing risk of miscariage, gradually diminishing as your pregnancy progresses, and you might experience abdominal discomfort or even spotting. Your skin may well change while you're pregnant. You might find that it becomes less dry or less oily, or that you get fewer spots, or the opposite could happen. Extra fluid in your face may smooth out any wrinkles, but it may also make you look a bit chubby. Quite early on, you will notice that the area around your nipples is darker and a brown line appears down the centre of your abdomen. You may get brown
patches on your face too, especially if you're in the sun. All these colour changes go away or fade after the baby is born. Stretch marks, may appear on your bump and your breasts from about three or four months. There’s no evidence that these can be prevented. They fade after the baby is born but never disappear.
We will discuss any complaints and exclude potential problems and complications.

The next milestone is the nuchal scan at 12-13 weeks. You will be gradually feeling better and this a good time to enjoy your baby on ultrasound, fully formed and playful and not that big yet. This is also an excellent opportunity to check the space behind the baby’s neck, the nuchal translucency. All babies have a small quantity of luis underneath the skin of the back of the neck. In Down syndrome babies this is found commonly increased. Unfortunately not all Down babies have increased fluid and, vice versa, not all babies with increased fluid have Down’s syndrome. We have therefore monitored several thousands of pregnancies in US and in the UK ten years ago. We checked the nuchal fluid, took into account the age of the mother and obviously the pregnancy outcome. These observations resulted in a screening test, an equation with all the above parameters. This test can pick up more than 90% of Down babies. We will check the nuchal translucency, ask for your age and your last period, and enter all the parameters in a computer software. The computer will alter your basic, age-related risk for Down syndrome, and give you an adjusted risk. If the final risk sounds good, (and we’ll have a long chat about acceptable risks), we may decide to avoid an amniocentesis, even when you are older than 35. An additional, independent parameter that will increase the sensitivity of the test is a hormone blood test (free BHCG and PAPP-A). When your blood result is ready, we shall modify the risk and give you the final result.

The next important scan is the anomaly scan, or b-level scan. This will take place at 22-23 weeks of gestation. It is a thorough scan, checking number of fingers, heart valves and other important details of the baby’s anatomy. A normal result is reassuring but bear in mind that some minor abnormalities may still be missed, even in expert hands.

From 14 weeks onwards, you will also probably feel much better, with plenty of energy to do things and appetite. Take it easy and keep an eye on your scales. You will be free to have a holiday as long as you do not stress yourself too much and avoid exposure to the sun. You will be able to swim and take sport activities. Sex will also be part of the agenda, unless advised otherwise.

We will have regular visits in our Practice, every four weeks, and more frequently should any problem arise. We will be checking the blood pressure, the urine and your weight and we will do regular scans to check the baby’s growth. I will be checking on you overall welll-being, including the psyhological aspect and see that your pregnancy progresses smoothly. Our midwife will be advising on breast preparation for lactation and nipple care.

At 28 weeks I will ask you to have a glucose tolerance test, in order to exclude gestational diabetes.

At 32 weeks a Doppler scan will reassure us that the placenta remains healthy and that the blood flow and the oxygen supply to the baby is adequate.

At 37-38 weeks, in addition to ultrasound, we will do a cardiotocogram (CTG), checking the baby’s heart rate variation in relation to uterine contractions. This is an additional reassuring test to check fetal well-being.

From 36 weeks onwards, we will be prepared for labour. Early labour signs include regular contractions and the rupture of membranes. If your waters go, it will be easy to tell, there is usually plenty of it and you will get soaked. You must immediately get going for the hospital. If you start having painful contractions, check how frequently they come and whether they are regular or not. Genuine labour pain, as opposed to Braxton-Hicks contractions, comes and goes at regular intervals, initially every 20-30 minutes, gradually getting more frequent. When not certain, you ring me or my midwife and we tell you what to do. Another early sign is the ‘show’, a mucous, thick, vaginal discharge, occasionally mixed with small amount of blood. This is the cervical ‘plug’ that kept the cervix tightly sealed throughout pregnancy and prevented micro-organisms from ascending into the cavity of the womb. A couple of days prior to onset of labour, this, having served its purpose, will pop out. It is a fairly accurate sign that labour is imminent, so don’t panic, don’t rush to the hospital, just have your things ready.

When the time comes, be it regular pain or the waters, you ring me or the midwife and we all meet in Labour Ward. We will remain with you throughout the whole labour and keep you informed and so that you remain confident and reassured.

Epidural anaesthesia is strongly recommended, but obviously you are the one to decide. An epidural will completely stop any painful sensation without making you drowsy. You will be alert, yet relaxed. You will not be stressed and you will be breathing better and that helps the oxygen supply to the baby. There are no significant recognised side-effects apart from a transient headache.
An epidural will not affect the labour outcome and will not increase the possibility for caesarean section.

I will guide through the stages of labour, aiming towards a straightforward vaginal delivery, and I am keen to persist and wait, as long as it is safe, in order to get there. However if any complication arises, or if the baby simply gets ‘stuck’ within the pelvis, we will be ready to proceed, with your consent, to a safe instrumental delivery or caesarean section. The Labour Ward at Iaso is perfectly organised and the staff are trained to assist in any kind of emergency. In the end of the day what we must have is a healthy mother and a healthy baby and I am keen to pre-empt problems and advocate safe, standard practice.

Once the baby is born, we will give you to hold and hug for as long as you like, early bonding between the two of you is essential. In the meantime, I will remove the placenta and may need to put a couple of stitches in the vagina. You will then be able to rest for a couple of hours in Labour Ward Recovery before you are transfered to your bed in the Ward.

Basic guidelines and do’s and dont’s for your pregnancy

Any medication use should be discussed with us, particularly during the 1st trimester. You may take paracetamol tablets (Depon, Panadol), up to 3 a day, if you have a headache or a flu, and Buscopan tablets for the occasional tummy ache, but other than that talk to us and double-check.

The only strict prohibition in pregnancy is smoking and if you do smoke we will advise to give it up promptly. Smoking has been related to high risk of miscarriage, prematurity, placental abruption, high blood pressure. Maternal smoking has also been incriminated for cot death in infancy.

You may have sexual intercourse throughout pregnacny, unless otherwise indicated. Always make certain that this is not painful or uncomfortable and you may want to try different, more comfortable positions We obstetricians tend to advise against it during the last 4 weeks of gestation, but even then there is no harm you can do, apart from initiating labour.

Try to keep away from stray cats and if you have a cat yourself, have someone else to collect its faeces. Avoid fresh salads if the greenery has not been thorougly cleaned.

Dring plenty of milk – at least two full glasses a day. You may opt for semi-skimmed milk, with less fat but same amount of calcium and vitamins. Make sure that your milk is pasteurised- avoid fresh goat milk from your village! Avoid evaporated milk – most of its vitamins have been affected.

Avoid nuts during pregnancy. Recent studies relate maternal consumption in pregnancy with subsequent allergy to nuts of the offspring.

You may use hair dye and nail polish, as this has not been found to have any detrimental effect whatsoever to your pregnancy.

You may drive your car up to the end of gestation, as long as there are no pregnancy complications. Always wear your seatbelt, with the the horizontal part underneath your belly and the transverse part crossing above it.

It is safe to work long hours in front of a computer screen, as it is established to be absolutely safe.


• Soft cheese, such as Brie, Camembert, however, cottage, gruyere and feta cheeses are fine. Blue-veined cheeses, such as Danish Blue or Stilton should also be avoided.
• Unpasteurised goat's, cow's, or sheep milk. • Ready-prepared coleslaw. •Raw shellfish. •Raw eggs (in mayonnaise, mousses, cake-icing or cheesecake). •Paté (any type) •Raw or undercooked meat. •Liver (unacceptably high levels of vitamin A). •Peanuts or peanut butter (if there's a family tendency to allergies).

Common concerns and issues to discuss

Morning sickness

Nearly 80% of women experience pregnancy sickness - and not just in the morning. Some women will just feel a bit nauseous. Others will feel sick every day and may actually vomit. An unlucky few will be so unwell that they need to take time off work. The good news is that most women start to feel a lot better at about 14 weeks. Hormonal changes may be the cause: the pattern of sickness seems to follow the ebbs and flows of human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), the hormone that orchestrates the production of other pregnancy hormones. Levels rise rapidly during the first six weeks, peak at eight to 10 weeks, and begin to fall at 11-13 weeks. Some people believe that pregnancy sickness protects your baby from harmful substances, this may be why so many women can't bear coffee, alcohol, cigarette or petrol fumes at this crucial time. Snacking can help reduce morning sickness. Some women are really helped by sucking lemons or peppermints, others swear by crisps, bananas or breakfast cereals. Nibble something at night if you wake up. It may stop you feeling so sick in the morning. Homemade, day-old popcorn is said to reduce nausea. Keep crackers by the bedside to nibble before you get up in the morning. Try ginger biscuits or ginger ale, or make ginger tea by infusing a little grated ginger root with boiling water in a teapot. You can add lemon or honey to taste and drink hot or cold. A supplement of vitamin B6 with magnesium may help if you are vomiting a lot. Foods rich in B6 include cereals, bananas, baked potatoes, lentils and tinned fish. Sea sickness acupressure bands, which are available from pharmacies, may also be helpful. You should also try to rest as much as you can.

Varicose veins

Varicose veins are caused by a combination of factors. Pregnancy hormones relax the muscular walls of the veins, while at the same time there is more blood for your circulation to pump around. This makes it more difficult for the muscle tissues and the valves in the veins to pump the blood back up to the heart, which means that some blood pools in the lower body. Another factor is the weight of your enlarging uterus that puts extra pressure on the veins of the legs and pelvic region. Some women feel no discomfort, but others suffer a mild ache, or a heavy feeling in their legs, or even acute pain. Those who are expecting twins or multiples, or those for whom varicose veins run in the family - are more at risk. You can avoid trouble by: • Walking and swimming more, to pump the blood around; • Doing specific exercises to prevent the blood pooling - frequent ankle flexions and rotations, at least 30 seconds at a time, with the feet elevated; • Doing frequent pelvic floor exercises (see below); • Never sitting with your knees crossed, or thighs pressing against the edge of a chair; • Always resting with your legs raised; • Trying not to stand for long periods of time; If you are already suffering from varicose veins, the measures above can help, but also try wearing support tights and raising the foot of your bed to help the blood drain back to the heart. For maximum effect they should be worn right from the start of your pregnancy.

Pelvic floor exercises

Our pelvic floor muscles hold all the abdominal contents in place and keep us continent, that is, they stop urine and faeces escaping when we cough, laugh, sneeze or lift. Exercising your pelvic floor muscles now will tone them up so they give support to your growing baby and uterus and help you feel more comfortable during the pregnancy. After pregnancy, pelvic floor exercises will encourage healing and recovery in that area.

The exercise
Imagine you are desperate to empty your bladder, but when you get to the lavatory it's occupied. Instinctively, you will do a pelvic floor contraction and squeeze to stop wetting yourself. Try doing it now - pulling up around the front passage as if to stop yourself leaking, hold for a count of four and then release. You should feel the difference when you let go. Repeat the exercise in batches of six to eight as often as you can during the day. As well as holding for a count of four, try doing some where you squeeze, release, squeeze, release, quite quickly. Remember to keep breathing normally throughout. Once a week, while sitting on the loo, you can try to stop in midstream while peeing to check that you are doing the exercise correctly.


Your own breastmilk is exactly the right food for your baby. There's strong evidence that babies do best if they have nothing but breastmilk for about the first six months of life. This may be important if you have any diabetes or allergies in your family as the use of formula milk increases the risk of diabetes, asthma or eczema. Breastfeeding protects your baby from infections, including sickness and diarrhoea, ear infections and chest infections. For some infections this protection continues even after you stop breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding - giving nothing except breastmilk - is more likely to reduce the risk or severity of allergies and provides the best protection. However, combining breastmilk with some formula still helps to reduce the risk of infections. Women who breastfeed have less risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer and broken bones due to osteoporosis in later life. If you choose to combine formula feeding alongside breastfeeding, you can increase your chances of maintaining a good milk supply if you only introduce formula once breastfeeding is well established. Your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor can help you work out when – and how - to do this. But if you start to bottle feed from the beginning it can be very hard to change to breastfeeding. If you are undecided, it's therefore best to start breastfeeding. Your baby will benefit from even a few feeds of colostrum - which is the first milk that your breasts produce, rich in antibodies and other substances that protect against illness and infections.

Paediatric concerns

If you worry about the ‘day-after’, when you go home with your baby, have a chat with our Paediatrician, Dr Amalia Michaelidou. She is a Consultant Neonatologist at Iaso Neonatal Unit and a Member of the Royal College of Paediatrics in London. She will guide you through the basic do’s and dont’s and reassure you.

Above all, don’t worry. Pregnancy is a normal process and all problems and complications are very rare. Enjoy your pregnancy and don’t listen to horror stories and scenarios. We will be monitoring your pregnancy closely and keep you well informed and reassured.

Dr Alexandros Kalogeropoulos
Member of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, London


Α Royal College Guideline on Swine Flu for pregnant mothers

Guidance on Swine Flu (H1N1v) for pregnant mothers – a joint statement from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives

The Swine Flu (novel Influenza – H1N1) pandemic Phase 6 alert was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) in June 2009. This meant that the flu virus was spreading rapidly both within and between countries.
In the UK, the Secretary of State for Health announced in July 2009 that the spread of flu in the United Kingdom had reached a level at which initial containment activities should now be replaced by a treatment response. The Chief Medical Officer sent information to doctors and health authorities, asking them to ensure that those suspected of having H1N1v will be treated immediately.
The WHO (on 2 July 2009) advised that pregnant women are at higher risk of complications from the virus and need to be monitored if they fall ill.
Experience so far shows that the H1N1v virus tends to affect the younger population, ie. those below the age of 60 years, and that the majority of people who suffer from it tend to experience mild flu symptoms. However, it can cause severe and complicated illness, and occasionally death, in people who have underlying health problems such as severe respiratory disease.
A few cases of severe illnesses among pregnant women and infants have been reported in the UK and from other countries. These have mostly affected women with pre-existing health problems. In previous pandemics, and in reports from some countries in this pandemic, there is evidence that pregnancy can increase the risk for influenza complications for the mother and the fetus.
Pregnant women are therefore included in the list of High Risk groups so that antiviral treatment can be provided as soon as their infection is diagnosed.
This document provides an updated guidance for pregnant women and mothers who have recently had their babies, in the light of the changing pattern of the outbreak of the H1N1 virus in the UK.

Good personal and household hygiene measures are key to preventing the spread of the virus. Frequent handwashing or cleaning with a disinfecting hand rub is highly effective in preventing the spread of the virus on hands contaminated by droplets from the nose and throat. Parents should also ensure that they wash their babies’ hands.
Tissues should be used to cover the mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing, and all used tissues should be disposed of promptly (as described in the ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it!’ campaign) if these have been near the nose or mouth.
Work surfaces, children’s play areas, toys and changing mats should be cleaned frequently. Parents are also advised to limit the sharing of children’s toys, and to wash or wipe toys after use. Small non-electrical and battery operated plastic toys wash well in a 30 – 40oc washing machine cycle if enclosed in a fleecy ‘babygrow’ garment, among the normal laundry.

Most of those people who have H1N1 flu, including pregnant women, will have mild symptoms, typical of seasonal (winter) flu. Common symptoms include a high temperature, sore throat, blocked or runny nose, body aches, tiredness, and occasionally diarrhoea and vomiting. In rare cases, the disease may rapidly progress to pneumonia.
The most important step to take in pregnancy is to treat fever (high temperature). This can be controlled by taking paracetamol which is known to be safe in pregnancy. The use of Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen is not recommended in pregnancy.
Some women are prescribed low dose aspirin for specific conditions in pregnancy. If you have been prescribed with this, you should carry on with this medication unless advised by your doctor or obstetrician.
Women should consult their doctors or midwives for further advice and should avoid taking several over-the-counter medicines each day, since most popular flu medicines contain paracetamol, and their additive effect may lead to taking too much of this medicine.
If you are ill, or think you have flu, you will be advised to:
Stay at home Contact the national flu line service (Call the Swine Flu Information Line on 0800 1 513 513 for the latest advice on flu and its treatment.
If you have an assessment for flu (which will usually be done online or via the telephone), you will be asked if you are pregnant. If you have flu, you will receive an authorisation which a friend or carer can use to collect a course of antiviral medicine for you.
Follow self-care advice, including:
Drink plenty of fluids Take the antiviral medicine as prescribed Take medicines such as paracetamol if required
If your symptoms get worse after having your assessment or treatment, you should contact your GP directly.
To reduce risk of infection:
Wash or clean your hands frequently (particularly after contact with people who are ill) Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue while sneezing or coughing Dispose of used tissues promptly and carefully – bag and bin them Wash hard surfaces (eg. worktops, bathroom areas, play mats, changing mats, door knobs) with a domestic cleaner regularly Avoid unnecessary travel Avoid crowds where possible Ensure your children follow this advice.
These measures can greatly reduce the risk of spreading the infection. However, the pandemic virus is highly infectious and many people will be infected, so the measures do not completely prevent the spread of flu.

The use of antivirals during pregnancy
The strategy for minimising the spread and effect of H1N1v is to treat people as soon as possible after they develop flu symptoms. It is important that you get an assessment and arrange for your ‘Flu Friend’ to collect your medicine as soon as you begin to feel ill.
Antiviral drugs are not a cure, but can shorten the illness and reduce the risk of complications, especially if the course is begun within 48 hours of symptoms developing. The H1N1 virus is known to be susceptible to two antivirals: oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®).
In the United Kingdom, pregnant women with flu symptoms will usually be given a course of Relenza. This medicine is inhaled, using a disk-shaped inhaler. It is recommended for pregnant women because it easily reaches the throat and lungs, where it is needed, and does not reach significant levels in the blood or placenta. This has the theoretical advantage of not affecting the pregnancy or the growing baby. However, if a doctor or midwifery specialist thinks that a different medicine is needed (for instance, for unusually severe flu), Tamiflu will be provided instead.
Any medicine can occasionally cause side effects. The most common one with Relenza is wheezing when the medicine is inhaled. Women who have asthma should keep their ‘reliever’ inhaler handy in case they need to take some treatment for this. All women should speak to their GP or midwife if symptoms persist or are severe. The antiviral medicine will be provided up to seven days after the onset of the illness, but you should make every effort to collect them within 48 hours of onset of symptoms.
The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) examined all of the accumulated evidence, since licensing some years ago, on the use of antiviral medicines in pregnancy, breastfeeding and in children under the age of one. They advised that the medicines are effective, and that there is no evidence of harm from their use, either for the pregnancy, the developing fetus or for babies below 12 months of age.
Pregnant women are reminded that the antiviral medicines used to treat H1N1 are highly purified and powerful drugs, available by prescription only. Women should not be tempted to buy and use drugs from the internet or mail-order sources. The effectiveness, purity and safety of these drugs cannot be guaranteed and many drugs purchased from these sources are not of the required strength to be effective.
According to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, some counterfeit drugs have been manufactured using poisons, or chemicals which affect the normal immune response, and are potentially very harmful. The UK has the largest stockpile of antivirals in the world and pregnant women will be given priority treatment. They should therefore NOT obtain Relenza or Tamiflu from unknown suppliers.

At present, because the H1N1 virus is a new influenza strain and in the process of rapid development, there are no vaccines available yet. Scientists from around the world are working hard to develop a vaccine. It is anticipated that the first batches of vaccine may be available by late autumn of 2009.
The UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) currently recommends immunisation against seasonal influenza for pregnant women with any condition known to cause increased risk from influenza, regardless of trimester. Women should make sure that they take up this vaccine as soon as it is offered.

Maternity services during a flu pandemic
The Department of Health, the Royal College of Obstetricians (RCOG) and Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have been closely involved in pandemic flu planning. Maternity services are expected to run as near normally as possible during a pandemic and there will be extra measures to ensure that service disruption is kept to a minimum.
In the event of a large pandemic, the whole health service will be mobilised, not just obstetricians, midwives and health visitors, but also GPs, community nurses, the ambulance and emergency services. A system is also in place for recently retired obstetricians, midwives and final-year medical trainees to boost services and support specialist health professionals. Women should stay in close contact with their local maternity services so that updated information can be relayed to them.

The RCOG and RCM recommend that pregnant women have a Flu Friend to call upon should they become too ill or require further assistance. This person will collect antiviral medicines and may help to act as the woman’s contact with the GP or maternity services.

Antenatal clinics
Women without flu symptoms are advised to attend their usual antenatal appointments unless different arrangements have been made by their local maternity service. The progress of the pregnancy is monitored at these sessions and information on pregnancy care is provided. Low risk women may be monitored differently, eg. by a telephone consultation with their midwife, to avoid the need to travel to a hospital or clinic.
The availability of antenatal clinics and classes may be compromised during a pandemic because of staff shortages. Antenatal screening may be postponed or modified, eg. Down’s syndrome screening with nuchal translucency scans may be replaced by blood tests if there is a shortage of ultrasonographers. Local maternity services are examining ways to ensure minimal disruption of clinical services and will provide up-to-date information on their services regularly, in most cases via their hospital or Trust websites.

Birth in hospital
Careful planning needs to take place and some procedures such as a planned induction of labour or an elective caesarean section may be rescheduled at short notice. Some women may also be assigned to another hospital for the birth if their maternity unit of choice is under severe pressure due to flu cases or staff shortages. Women will be sent home from hospital as soon as possible, to reduce their exposure to infection.
Women will be informed by their maternity service should such contingency plans be put in place and need not worry about contacting other maternity units. Most maternity units will work closely together to ensure continuity of service as far as possible.

Birth at home
Staff shortages, or illness of a family member may mean that planned home births cannot be offered during a pandemic. If this is the case, mothers may need to have a hospital birth, which may mean a change to family arrangements. Women planning a home birth should discuss their options with their midwife.

Postnatal care and support
During a pandemic, women are advised to limit the number of visitors they receive at home in the first two months after the birth, to prevent themselves or their baby catching the disease from someone with the flu. If a member of the family has H1N1, they should keep apart from the mother and baby, in a different room if possible.
Similarly, midwives may not be available for home visits during a pandemic. Alternative arrangements will be made and women should check with their local maternity services on the availability.
If your baby is found to have the H1N1v flu and requires further treatment, it may be cared for in a neonatal unit. Or, if you have H1N1v and your baby is well, it may be expedient to have your baby cared for away from you for a short space of time, until you recover. The need for a mother and baby to be separated will be rare, and you will be encouraged to be in close contact with your baby as far as possible.

Caring for the infant
To prevent mother-to-baby transmission of the flu, mothers are reminded about the need for good personal hygiene. Hands must be washed and kept clean at all times when in contact with infants. Clothes which may be contaminated from used tissues or runny noses, should be changed and washed. Mothers should also take special care over their baby’s hygiene, and keep surroundings, cots and other equipment clean. Provided these basic steps are taken, mothers and fathers are encouraged to have frequent skin-to-skin contact with their babies.
How do I know if my baby has H1N1v flu?
The symptoms in newborns will be similar to the ordinary flu and includes fever, cough, cold and the loss of appetite. In addition, your baby will be tired and irritable and will need help during feeding. If you spot that your child has a high temperature or is having difficulty breathing (short rapid breaths) and a repetitive cough, contact your GP immediately for further advice.

Women who are breastfeeding will usually be given Tamiflu if they need an antiviral medicine. This is because there is no longer a risk to the placenta or developing baby. It also is safe for women to breastfeed while using Relenza. Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed as they would normally.
If a mother is too ill to breastfeed, or the baby is too ill to suckle, then expressed milk should be used. The risk for swine flu influenza transmission through breast milk is unknown, but good nutrition, with breast milk where possible, is important for recovery from flu and other infections.

Information resources
If pregnant women fall ill and suspect they may have the H1N1 flu, they should make sure that they get a phone or on-line assessment immediately. Reliable information information is available from the following sources:
Department of Health
http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Healthcare/Children/Maternity/Maternalandinfantnutrition/DH_099965 NHS Choices http://www.nhs.uk/AlertsEmergencies/Pages/Pandemicflualert.asp DirectGov http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Swineflu/DG_177831 Relenza http://www.relenza.com/

RCOG/RCM 9 July 2009