I recently heard about the new trend of hanging cute (or, some might think, not so cute) signs on strollers that say “Please don’t touch my baby.” Many parents of infants are doing this to keep strangers from touching their baby (and hence, passing along dangerous germs).
Are these parents being overly cautious? Is it really so dangerous to let people touch your newborn?
Babies are vulnerable, especially newborns. Their defense system against bacteria and viruses is quite limited. And premature infants are even more at risk. We vaccinate to boost that immune system against serious infections, but those vaccinations don’t happen until 2 months of age. And most of those vaccinations require follow up doses – a second shot at 4 months and a third at 6 months – to be maximally effective. Some of these infections that we vaccinate against can cause a baby to be hospitalized, even though it may just be a cough in an adult. Another one, strep pneumococcus could cause bacteremia (a blood infection) or meningitis in an infant.
If a baby gets a fever before 3 months of age, doctors take every precaution to make sure that a serious infection is not occurring. This can often include blood tests for the baby, and even a lumbar puncture to test the spinal fluid for meningitis. Again, this is because the baby is vulnerable at this young age.
Some viruses that may not even create symptoms in an adult or an older child can pose serious hazards to a young baby. Although viruses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or parainfluenza may just cause a runny nose in a 5 year old, they can cause a newborn to have pneumonia, potentially sending him to the hospital. And sadly, viruses, including the flu, do circulate more in the fall and winter months.
So my take on this is to protect your baby as much as you can, especially in the first few months of life. That includes:
1. Making sure you and other caregivers wash your hands before touching him. Wear a mask if you have a cold.
2. Breastfeed if you can. Breast milk not only offers the best nutrition, but it also provides antibodies, immune factors, enzymes, and white blood cells that help protect baby from infection.
3. Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. I cannot overstate this. I’ve seen too many unvaccinated babies end up in the hospital with deadly infections. Vaccines work. Period.
4. Make sure your baby gets enough sleep, about 16 hours a day. This can also help his immune system.
5. And yes, don’t be afraid to say ‘Don’t touch’ or have a sign that says it. It is not mean, it is just sensible. If a friend or visitor really wants to touch the baby, the feet are a safe place for touching.
I still remember what a good friend of mine, who is an ER doctor, said when she became a new mom. She stated firmly, “No one will touch my baby until he is vaccinated because I don’t want to take a chance.” And I know other doctors who had the same rule as parents.
Remember, baby’s health and wellness has to be first priority, above everything else – including being a “nice” parent.