When my kids were infants, I wasn’t one of those people who bathed them every day, and if it wasn’t too cold outside, I’d probably ditch the newborn hat (cardinal sin, I know!). Sometimes their nails were too long and scratched up their little faces, and I wasn’t always great about wiping every last ounce of spit-up off their clothes (or mine).
I also never bought into the idea that you aren’t supposed to take a baby outside of your perfectly sanitized home for the first three months of life. Umm…how is that even supposed to happen, especially once you have more than one kid?
But if there was one rule I believed in, it was this: “Keep your damn germs away from my baby!” I used to wear my baby in a carrier everywhere we went. This was partly because I had Velcro-babies who pretty much didn’t want to exist anywhere else but against my body (and boobs). But it also came in handy in guarding them from all the germy grown-ups who felt it was perfectly within their rights to grab my baby and cover him with kisses.
Listen: I get it. Babies are cute. They are delicious. It is really freaking hard to keep your hands off them. But oh my goodness, don’t touch a newborn without permission. Don’t hold them without washing your hands. Don’t slobber all over them with your kisses. And for Pete’s sake, don’t sneeze on a newborn and blame it on allergies or some other fake-ass excuse like that.
And get ready for this. Here’s the big one, where I have no tolerance for you, and will absolutely kick your sorry butt out to the curb: Don’t come to my house to visit my newborn with “just a cold,” “just a tickle in your throat,” or any such nonsense like that.
No, you can’t rationalize or justify your way out of this. If there is a newborn in the house, you must be completely and totally healthy to come inside.
You may think that what you have is the tiniest, mildest, nothing-est miniscule little sniffle. But your nothing cold could land a newborn in the hospital, and that is no laughing matter.
See, you’ve had years to toughen up your immune system, but babies have not. So a case of something like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) might manifest as a little cold for you, but for a newborn, could be absolutely devastating and require medical equipment just to keep that baby breathing.
Don’t just take it from me. Our pals at WebMD concur. “Infections in small babies can be pretty serious,” pediatrician Tanya Remer Altmann, MD tells WebMD. “They can get very sick quite quickly.” Altmann explains that viruses present themselves differently in infants than they do in older children and adults, and for this reason, it is best to take extra precautions with babies during the first three months of life — and possibly as long as six months.
Of course, as careful as you might be, stuff happens. Your toddler might come home with a bad cold, and try as you might, there’s often just no way to keep that kid away from your baby. I have a dear friend whose week-old baby had to be hospitalized because of germs brought home from an older sibling. The good news is that this sort of thing rarely happens, and even when it does, most babies do fine (though they scare the bejesus out of their parents).
But why take a chance on something like that, when there is a simple thing any mature grown-up can you can do to prevent it (i.e., just stay the hell away from infants when you are sick)?
Now, as much as a germaphobe as I am, I do believe that as kids get older, it’s probably pretty prudent for them to be exposed to germs. And frankly, once they’re mobile, there is little you can do to prevent them from licking every germ-laden, disgusting piece of crap out there. My kids have even been known to crawl across the floor, taking licks of it as they go.
But I do think there’s a reason that the period when babies go out and pick up germs themselves correlates to that time in their life when they are more able to fight off viruses without landing themselves in the intensive care unit. It also correlates to a time when babies have gotten at least a few of their vaccinations out of the way.
Until that time? Keep your germy, disgusting vile self away from newborns. Just do it. I don’t care if you took two planes, three subways, and a bus over to see that baby. If you’re the least bit sick, you need to stay away until you’re 1000% better.