Dear Dr. Johnson: I just had a baby and am concerned about her getting sick. What can I do to prevent illness?
Dear Reader: Congratulations on your new baby. Having a baby during cold and flu season does increase concerns about her getting sick. Young infants have a developing immune system that puts them at high risk of complications even due to common illnesses.
While it’s not always possible to prevent illness, you can try your best to keep your baby healthy. As always, the best way to prevent the spread of infection is through good hand washing. It is best to do this with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (two rounds of singing “Happy Birthday”).
If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used. The hands should be coated front and back, between the fingers and under fingernails with soap or hand sanitizer. It is important even for people with no signs of illness to cleanse their hands, as we often are contagious before we develop symptoms from an illness.
As long as there isn’t a medical reason to avoid it, I recommend that everyone get their flu vaccination. For those in close contact with infants, it is especially important. Infants cannot get the flu vaccine until they are 6 months old, so we protect them by making sure those around them are less likely to get the flu and, therefore, less likely to spread it.
It is also recommended that those in close contact with children under age 12 months make sure they have had their pertussis (whooping cough) booster vaccine.
The next step is to avoid being around anyone who is sick. Most people are good about not coming to visit or coming near your baby when they have an illness, but it’s still good to be aware.
I make the assumption that this time of year all toddlers have some virus, whether visibly sick or not. If the young child is someone you want to be able to see your baby and touch them (sibling, cousin, etc.) and they don’t have signs of being sick, then help them to wash their hands well before coming into contact with your baby.
Also encourage them to touch the baby on her head or feet, avoiding the face and the hands. If germs are spread to the face and hands by touching or kissing, they are more likely to make it to the baby’s mouth, nose or eyes and result in the baby getting sick.
Avoid crowded places where you would be in close contact with many other people. If you decide to attend a party or get-together, it can be beneficial to “wear your baby,” for example, in a sling. This decreases the chances that others will ask to touch or hold your baby.
If the baby is breast feeding, it is a good idea for the mother to continue breast feeding even if she gets sick, as long as she is physically able. Some of the mother’s antibodies to the illness can pass through the breast milk and provide the baby some protection.
If your newborn has signs of illness, it is best to be seen or at least discuss it with the baby’s doctor. If your baby has a temperature above 100.4, she should be seen immediately.