But what happens when Mom or Dad gets sick? What about older siblings? How can we prevent Baby from getting sick if there are germs in the house?
In most circumstances it is not possible for the primary caretaker to be completely isolated from a baby, but there are things you can do to help prevent Baby from getting sick.
- Wash hands frequently, especially after touching your face, blowing your nose, eating, using common items (phone, money, etc) and toileting. Wash Baby's hands after diaper changes too. Make this a habit even when you're not sick... you never know when you're shedding those first germs!
- Wipe down surfaces. Viruses that cause the common cold, flu, and vomiting and diarrhea can live on surfaces longer than many expect. Clean the surfaces of commonly touched things such as doorknobs; handles to drawers, cabinets, and the refrigerator; phones; and money frequently when there is illness in the area.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth - these are the "doors" germs use to get in and out of your body. Pay attention to how often you do this. Most people touch their face many times a day. This contributes to getting sick.
- Resist kissing Baby on the face, hands, and feet. I know they're cute and you love to give kisses, but putting germs around their eyes, nose, and mouth allows the germs to get in. They put their hands and feet in their mouth, so those need to stay clean too.
- Cover your cough. I often recommend that people cover coughs and sneezes with their elbow to avoid getting germs on their hands and reduce the risk of spreading those germs. When you're responsible for a baby, the baby's head is often in your elbow, so I don't recommend this trick for caretakers of babies. Cover the cough or sneeze with your hands and then wash them with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer if soap and water aren't available.
- Vaccinate. If you're vaccinated against influenza, whooping cough, and other vaccine preventable diseases, you're less likely to bring those germs home. Encourage everyone around your baby to be vaccinated. If you get your recommended Tdap and seasonal flu vaccine while pregnant, Baby benefits from passive immunity. See Passive Immunity 101: Will Breast Milk Protect My Baby From Getting Sick? by Jody Segrave-Daly, RN, MS, IBCLC to better understand passive immunity.
- Breastfeed or give expressed breast milk if possible. Mothers frequently fear that breastfeeding while sick isn't good for Baby. The opposite is true - it's very helpful to pass on fighter cells against the germs! Again see Jody Segrave-Daly's blog for wonderful explanation of how breast milk protects our babies.
- Limit contact as much as possible. If possible, keep Baby in a separate area away from sick family members. Wash hands after leaving the area of sick people. If the primary caretaker is sick and there is no one available to help, wear a mask and wash hands after touching anything that might be contaminated.
- Insist on a smoke-free home and car. Even if someone is smoking (or vaping) in another room or at another time, Baby can be exposed to the airborne particles that irritate airways and increase mucus production. These toxic particles remain in a room or car long after smoking has stopped. If you must smoke or vape, go outdoors. Change your shirt (or remove a coat) and wash your hands before holding Baby.