It’s normal to want to hold and snuggle your new grandchild, niece or nephew during the cute newborn phase. During cold and flu season, you may be showering the little one with germs as well as love.
If you’re a grandparent, family caregiver or doting friend who will be spending a lot of time around newborns, take precautions to protect babies from illnesses their immune systems aren’t prepared to handle. Parents: Don’t be shy about asking loved ones to take these steps before holding or caring for your baby.
Update your vaccines
“In the ideal world, everyone who comes in contact with kids would be fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Keith Pulvermacher, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician. “Newborns are blank slates prone to many different illnesses in the first two months.”
Newborns are more likely to stay healthy when the people around them are vaccinated. It’s especially important for grandparents and other people who spend a lot of time around babies to have a current flu shot and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine.
Stay home or take precautions if you’re sick
Staying away from newborns when you’re sick is the safest option. Try to avoid visiting babies while you have a fever, cough and cold symptoms or diarrhea.
It may not be possible to distance yourself if you’re a baby’s sole childcare provider. Use extra caution if you must care for a baby when you’re sick. Wash your hands before touching a baby if you have diarrhea or a cold. Wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms like runny nose or cough.
“Distance yourself or use precautions until your fever breaks for 24 hours or you no longer have symptoms,” said Dr. Shalini Ravi, a Marshfield clinic internal medicine/pediatrics physician.
Sick children who live in the house should stay away from the baby as much as possible. Make sure older siblings who are sick don’t touch the baby or the baby’s toys and bottles. They should wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizer to avoid passing the illness to parents or caregivers.
“Newborns have the advantage of not being mobile, so it’s easier to keep them away from other people in the home who are sick,” Pulvermacher said.
Wash your hands and limit outings during cold and flu season
It’s possible to spread germs without having any signs of illness. Hand washing is crucial when you’re sick, but it’s still important when you’re healthy because it’s one of the easiest ways to avoid spreading illness to babies, Ravi said. Wash your hands after changing a baby, before feeding him and anytime you come home from running errands.
Try to limit touching the baby’s mouth and hands and kissing the baby around the face.
“That can be hard to do because of how parents and family members bond with newborns,” Pulvermacher said.
Limit newborns’ exposure to germs outside the home as well as inside. Busy malls or holiday parties with all your distant relatives aren’t the best places to take newborns because someone there is likely to be sick. Parents of premature babies are advised not to attend functions during the first few months, but parents of full-term, healthy infants also should be careful in crowds during cold and flu season.
Contact your newborn’s pediatrician if the baby develops a fever, vomiting, diarrhea or cold symptoms.