Protecting your new baby from infection

Recently after church I was chatting with a new mum whose baby daughter I had deliveredIMG_0202 eight days earlier and I was very pleased to see she had her baby in a protective sling. Not only was this very convenient for her and took up minimal space in the car (c.f. a pram), but also the sling facilitated her giving her baby instant attention as needed, was very comfortable for her and baby, was a comforting position for her baby, and made it very easy for her to avoid her baby coming into contact with others and so protected her baby from infection.

The baby is facing in towards mother’s chest in a newborn sling. This prevents an admirer asking for a cuddle, touching baby and even talking over baby’s face. When someone coughs, sneezes or talks they can release germs into the air that can infect anyone, including a baby, within one metre.

So often I have seen the opposite where a newborn baby is in a pram with everyone wanting a close look and a cuddle. So often it is asked: “Can I have a cuddle?” So often the newborn baby is handed from one admirer to another for a cuddle and without people thinking that they may be the bearer of germs than can harm the precious newborn baby. The new mother doesn’t want to seem to be rude by saying “no” especially if her baby is awake. Sometimes a new mum is not concerned by this common behaviour and oblivious to the risk it has to her baby.

Many mums cover the pram with a pram cover that helps prevent others from getting too close and also protects her baby from the sun. But admirers will want to pull the cover back to see the baby and if the baby is awake ask to lift the baby out for a cuddle. Also with the baby in a pram the admirers typically say compliments and talk to the baby while directly facing the baby. This close proximity to the baby’s face increases the risk of the baby being infected by air-born germs spread by the admirer.

While it is relatively easy to protect your new baby from exposure to most germ hazards, it is not easy to protect your baby from germs of people. My grandson, Toby, contracted hand, foot and mouth disease from another toddler at their church preschool group called “music time”. The other (infected) toddler’s mother said when she arrived at music time: “It’s ok. He doesn’t have any blisters now and is no longer infectious”. The problem was my daughter Amanda (Toby’s mum) was in very advanced pregnancy at the time that Toby became infected. All worked out but it caused major concerns and almost prevented Toby from seeing his new brother. All unnecessary and all because of a casual other mother! Some people are very thoughtless, and I think selfish, in their behaviour and have a crazy logic in their thinking.

A newborn baby has so many admirers, well-wishers and so visitors. There is nothing like a brand new baby to generate a crowd in hospital and at home. Family and friends and even those who are not good friends and their children want to visit. As well, they consider it their right as they made the effort to visit (even if uninvited) to have a cuddle and even to give the newborn baby a kiss.

If obviously unwell, some will do the right thing and stay away but others will still come. And then there are those who phone a few days after visiting and say they or their child has been diagnosed ‘such and such’ infection and so was infectious when they visited. Having told you this they consider that is the end of their responsibility.

A particular challenge is older siblings. Children carry infections and spread infections with such frequency. They have been out playing with other children, have been at preschool or at school and come home. The first thing that they want to do is see and touch their new brother or sister, being quite oblivious to the potential infection risk.

A few simple steps will help minimise the infection risk to your baby.

  • Tell people to stay away if they or their children are unwell.
  • Screen people for obvious infection before they get close to your baby and be tough. If they are unwell, they cannot get close to your baby.
  • Always wash your hands before picking up your baby or preparing food, after nappy changes, after using the bathroom, or walking into the house. Insist that anyone who wants to hold your baby does the same.
  • Have a hand cleanser with you when out. Use it yourself and if someone insists on touching your baby, ask them to use it on their hands before having contact with your baby.
  • Minimise taking your baby to places where there are lots of people and so lots of potential risk.
  • Be vaccinated against whooping cough in pregnancy, ideally between 28 and 32 weeks of pregnancy. Be aware that, while the vaccine helps protect your newborn baby, it is no guarantee baby is fully protected from whooping cough.
  • Make sure your baby is fully vaccinated as recommended.
  • Ask those who have frequent contact with your baby to be up to date with their vaccination.

But please don’t become a nervous and paranoid mother. Despite your best efforts, your child will catch something. When it happens, don’t bash yourself up. Usually all is well and your baby will make a full recovery but do seek medical advice from your doctor as soon as possible as baby can get seriously unwell very quickly.

The good news is their immune systems get stronger as they get older.

Posted by Dr Gary Sykes on - Latest Posts, Postnatal

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