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Keeping the Germs Away from Your Baby

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

As many of my patients can attest, I am very particular when it comes to protecting newborns from exposure to illness in the first 6-8 weeks of life.

When I am discharging an infant from the newborn nursery I have a list of “going home instructions” to discuss which includes the directive to try and limit a baby’s exposure to germs. As you know there are germs everywhere, but there are MORE germs in crowded, enclosed areas.

If a baby gets a fever in the first 6-8 weeks of life, pediatricians are taught early on, that the baby is admitted to the hospital for what is known as a “sepsis workup”. No big deal? It is a big deal and I tell parents that their baby will have blood drawn, urine samples taken by a catheter, and a spinal tap to rule out meningitis.

Following this work-up, the infant will get an IV placed and receive antibiotics for 48 – 72 hours until all tests are negative for a bacterial infection. Luckily, in most cases the infant has acquired a viral infection and is usually discharged fever free, totally well, but with traumatized new parents. The best way to avoid all of this is to try and keep them away from pesky viruses, so back to the discussion of limiting exposure.

So what is a crowded area? Stores (from Neiman’s to Wal Mart), restaurants, churches, synagogues, mosques, malls, movies, and especially crowded family events with lots of toddlers who are one of the biggest vectors for spreading germs.

Of course a precious toddler does not spread their germs intentionally, but think about it, their hands are everywhere, they touch everything and they don’t know how to cover their mouths when they cough or wipe their noses with anything but their little hands. Trying to keep their hands away from a baby is also a big challenge as there is nothing more fun than a newborn that looks like their own dolls or stuffed animals and “needs to be hugged!”

A first born is the easiest child to “protect” from germs as it is fairly easy to limit their exposure.  I often hear, “but I have to go somewhere I have cabin fever!”  It is great to go outside and enjoy a walk, a trip to the park for a picnic or anything outdoors and away from others. Dinner with friends at home, especially another couple who have an infant is another option. Don’t want to cook, drive through your favorite spot and take it home to eat with your healthy friends; just don’t take that precious newborn into your favorite, crowded, restaurant.

Second, third…tenth children are a bit harder to isolate completely as they have siblings and you are now a bigger family. But you can limit the baby’s exposure by not “dragging” your newborn to the friend’s 3 year old birthday party at a pizza joint.

What about taking the newborn for show and tell at pre-school, I would wait till they are older! ( I am telling you this as I get asked this often too). By waiting a few weeks you will limit the chance of fever and hospitalization which is even harder to orchestrate when you have other children at home who need Mom and Dad too. I tell parents to “divide and conquer” and let one parent stay home for a couple of hours with the newborn while the other takes the older siblings to their events. Switch off, you are now playing zone rather than man to man and sometimes you have to “cover” more than one child.

I know that 6 – 8 weeks sounds like forever but you are just starting your parenting journey for the rest of that baby’s life, you will look back and see how fast that time went by.

Lastly, get yourself immunized for flu and whooping cough, another way to protect your baby!

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

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