Besides flu vaccines, maternal intake of a vitamin B nutrient can prevent babies from brain disorders caused by cold or flu in pregnancy, say researchers.
The study showed that higher levels of choline prevented brain problems and mental illness, like attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia, in babies even when the mother had a cold or flu during pregnancy.
"Cold and flu are often unavoidable, even if the mother has had a flu shot. But cold and flu during pregnancy double the risk of future mental illnesses. More and more information show choline helps the baby's brain develop properly," said Robert Freedman, Professor at the University of Colorado in the US.
"We found higher levels of choline prevent foetal brain problems from developing, even when the mother is infected. Choline supplements in pregnancy can have a lifelong benefit for the infant," Freedman said.
For the study, published in the Journal of Paediatrics, the team assessed prenatal maternal infection, C-Reactive Protein (CRP) -- a marker of maternal inflammation -- and the mothers' choline levels.
Brain development before birth was assessed by measuring the baby's brain waves soon after birth.
When mothers had a cold or flu during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, the newborns'
ability to cease or delay the effect on the brain decreased by 27 percent.
Maternal flu also decreased children's ability to pay attention and play.
However, these effects were prevented if the mother had higher choline levels, the findings showed.
While the body creates some choline on its own and it is also naturally present in certain foods, including liver, red meat and eggs, pregnant women are recommended 450 mg of choline a day to improve babies' brain development.