Germs and Your Newborn

A pediatrician calms your nerves about germs and your baby.

Bringing a baby into the petri dish that is NYC can be pretty scary. Even as adults, we try not to touch the subway poles, and we’re always tempted to put on a hospital mask when passing through Times Square. It’s no wonder that when many New Yorkers get pregnant, they hightail it for the suburbs, stat.

Totally unnecessary, says Dr. Deena Blanchard MD, a pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics. “There is no evidence to suggest that living in NYC increases your infant’s risk of illness,” she reassures us, adding that a little old-fashioned hand-washing, and avoiding crowded or enclosed spaces early on is your best defense. But before you hit the subway with your fresh-out-of-the-oven newborn, you may want to brush up on a few germy guidelines for city-living.

Here, Dr. Blanchard calms our concerns about bringing baby up in the big — and germy — city.

Why is it important to be careful about exposing my newborn to germs?

Until two months of age, your baby will not have received the vaccines that protect against certain bacteria that can produce serious illness in infants. Fever (defined as a rectal temperature 100.4 degrees (F) or above) in infants less than two months of age is taken very seriously. If your child were to have a fever, it would require a complete medical work-up and possibly hospitalization, so we recommend a little extra caution when dealing with young infants.

So does that mean I’m stuck in my apartment for the first two months?

Absolutely not! You can definitely leave your house with your new baby. You can take walks outside or go to a park. In nice weather, you can even sit outside at a café or restaurant. I would recommend avoiding any crowded or enclosed spaces until after the two-month vaccines. This includes movies, malls, subways, airplanes and other similar places.

Everyone I’ve ever met wants to come meet the baby. How do I keep my baby safe from all those dirty hands?

It is best for people to wash their hands before holding your baby. If a friend or family member is sick, I would recommend they refrain from being around the baby until they are feeling well. The most common way to catch an infectious disease is by touch. The hands pick up germs and then transport them to the eyes or mouth. By keeping your own — and your child’s hands — clean, you greatly reduce the chances that he will get sick. Although soap and water is always preferred, alcohol-based hand sanitizers work well, too.

I feel like I am getting a cold, is it safe for me to breastfeed?

Absolutely. When you are sick, your body makes antibodies that are then passed to the baby through the breast milk. Practice good hand-washing and continue to feed your baby while you are feeling sick. This allows your baby to get the antibodies you are making and actually helps protect him from getting sick as well.

Do I need to sterilize my baby’s pacifiers and bottles?

No. As long as you don’t use well water, a good thorough cleaning with soap and hot water is all you need to do to protect your baby.

I’ve got a busy little toddler. What do I do about my older child touching the baby?

It is important for your older child to bond with your new baby. That being said, many toddlers and school-aged children are often sick with viral illnesses, so use your judgment when it comes to close contact. If you child is sick with a febrile illness, please don’t allow her to come in close contact with your infant until she is feeling better. Otherwise, when your child is well, encourage him to talk with the baby and entertain the infant. You can also suggest kissing the baby’s feet and avoid the face and the hands.

A Final Note:

Even when we do our best to avoid illness, sometimes children get sick. Remember germs are a part of our world and can’t be completely avoided at all times. If your infant does get a fever, it is usually NOT you fault and does not mean you did something wrong or failed as a parent. Take the proper precautions as outlined above, and if you have concerns about your infant’s health, contact your pediatrician right away.

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