How to keep your new baby safe from infection

After your newborn comes home from the hospital, it’s normal to want to introduce your new little one to your family and friends. At the same time, you want to protect him from getting an infection from a visitor. A newborn can also get sick from being exposed to people by going out in the community. Many new parents wonder when is it “safe” to take the baby out in public.

Trying to decide what is best for the baby in these situations can be difficult. And unfortunately, the answer is not always simple. In general, the more people the baby has contact with, the more likely the baby will come in contact with an infection.

Infections in newborns can be very serious for several reasons. First, infants do not have fully developed immune systems, so they are more susceptible to infectious illnesses. Also, when a newborn gets an infection, the illness is often more serious than when an adult or older child gets the same infection. Finally, when a newborn gets a fever, extensive medical care is recommended, because the fever could be because of a life-threatening infection. This is true even if the baby seems fine. Fever in a baby who is 4 – 6 weeks old is always an emergency.

It is important to try to protect newborns against getting infections, but this does not mean the newborn can never have visitors or go out in public. Try to remember these helpful tips when trying to decide who can visit your baby and where you can take your new little one:

  • Try not to have visitors who have infectious symptoms around the baby. For example, anyone with a fever, cold, cough, sore throat, vomiting or diarrhea probably should not visit. Remember, even a person who had infectious symptoms a few days before may still be contagious.
  • Visitors should always wash their hands before holding the baby. Hand washing is the most important thing we can do to help stop the spread of infection.
  • Infants and toddlers who attend daycare and young school-age children, are frequent carriers of infections. So try to minimize these young visitors to those that are most important in those first few weeks. Of course, siblings would be an exception to this rule. It is important that older brothers or sisters get to know the new addition. Be sure that siblings learn to wash their hands before touching the baby.
  • Don’t forget: It is acceptable to say no to visitors. Your baby’s health is most important. If you do not feel comfortable with someone visiting yet, it is OK to say so.
  • Try to keep public outings to a minimum those first few weeks. That does not mean you can never take the baby anywhere. You will need to run errands, the baby needs to go to the doctor, and there will be people and places that will be important for you to visit. Just keep in mind that you want the baby’s exposure to be somewhat limited to those people and places that you feel are important and necessary.

Besides being mindful of who your little one comes in contact with, there are a few other things you can do to help decrease your newborn’s chance of getting sick:

  • Breast milk is the best infant nutrition for many reasons, including helping to prevent infections in your baby. If you are pregnant or considering having a baby, talk to your doctor about the benefits of breastfeeding.
  • Parents, siblings and caregivers should receive the flu vaccine each year. Babies cannot get the flu vaccine until they are 6 months old. Protecting those who live with your baby helps protect your newborn.
  • Pregnant women should get immunized against pertussis with each pregnancy. Pertussis is the bacteria that causes whooping cough, which can be a deadly infection in young babies. All other adult caregivers should also get immunized as well.
  • Remember to wash your hands before caring for the baby to decrease spread of infection.
  • Be sure your baby also gets all his vaccines. Immunizing your child helps protect him against preventable but potentially life-threatening infections.

In the end, only you and your family can decide what people and experiences are most important for you and your newborn. Although these decisions are not always easy, these tips will hopefully make things a bit easier for you.

Author Laura Lawler, M.D., FAAP, is chief of Pediatric Hospitalists at Christiana Care.