Protecting Your Unborn Baby or Newborn from Infections
Having a new baby is an exciting event, but can bring new anxieties as well. Someone coughing or sneezing nearby may not have caught your attention before, but now that you have a baby, or are about to, you suddenly become more aware of the abundance of germs and surrounding risks.
While we can’t protect our children from everything, there are precautions and safety steps you can take to keep your baby safe from dangerous infections.
If you are currently pregnant:
During pregnancy, your baby relies on you for protection. There are a few prenatal infections that can lead to potential serious health problems, so it is important to be aware and take the necessary precautions.
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV): This virus, if contracted by a pregnant woman, can be passed to the baby and may cause hearing loss, vision loss, intellectual disabilities, or other problems later on. CMV is passed via bodily fluids from a person or child carrying the virus. You can decrease risk by simply ensuring regular hand washing, especially after changing diapers if you have another child, or care for others.
- Group B Strep: This common infection is carried by about 1 in 4 women in the U.S. While you may not have symptoms, if this is passed to the baby during birth, the baby can become very sick or even die. Your doctor will test you for Group B Strep when you are 35 to 37 weeks pregnant. If positive, you will be given an antibiotic during labor to prevent passing to your baby.
- Listeriosis: This infection is rare, but can be extremely dangerous for an unborn baby, causing possible miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, or other life-threatening infection. You can get listeriosis by ingesting food contaminated with the bacteria, mainly items such as soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk products, raw items, and deli meats. The best prevention is remaining vigilant when choosing foods throughout your pregnancy and practicing food preparation safety.
- Zika: This infection can be spread from being bit by an infected mosquito or via sexual activity with an infected person. For an unborn baby, it can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, eye defects, hearing loss, impaired growth and microcephaly. For both you and your partner, unnecessary travel to areas with Zika should be avoided, you should both take steps to prevent mosquito bites, and practice safe sex or abstain if necessary.
If you have a baby 6 months or younger:
Babies are at risk of infection from various sources, whether it’s another child at daycare or a loving hug, kiss, or cuddle from a family member. Unfortunately, simple cold or flu viruses that older children or adults may be able to handle can cause serious health risks for babies. However, there are ways you can help keep your baby healthy:
- Regular hand washing and hand sanitizer: Touch is the most common way to spread infection. Always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before picking up your baby or preparing any food, as well as after diaper changes, using the restroom, or arriving home from being out. Make sure others practice this when around your baby, as well.
- Allow only specific interaction: You won’t necessarily be able to keep your baby away from everyone, so when others want to snuggle or kiss your baby, request that they stay away from kissing the face or hands.
- Keep newborns away from crowds: Large get-togethers or crowded places should be avoided until your baby is over the 3-month milestone. The chance that at least one person in those environments is sick in some form is high, so it is best to keep your baby away.
- It’s okay to reschedule a visit: Many people may think that a simple cough or runny nose is just that, but to a baby, it can be much worse. If someone is planning to come visit, make sure they are feeling okay. If they have any sign of illness, even if seemingly minor, let them know that you would prefer to reschedule when they are feeling better.
- Speak up for your baby: If you have a stubborn guest who insists on kissing the baby on the face, or have an ill caretaker who believes they are okay to watch the baby, don’t be afraid to say “no.” Be sure to talk with any potential daycare or sitter about their policies and procedures if they have a sick employee or are sick themselves. Remember that your baby cannot speak for himself, and you are the parent, so if there is a situation that you aren’t quite comfortable with, be confident in saying so.
- Follow vaccination recommendations: Vaccines are extremely important in protecting your baby from rare diseases as well as some of the most common viruses that can cause severe complications. Getting your baby vaccinated at the proper times will help them avoid preventable health problems or hospitalization. If you have any concerns, be sure to talk them over with your child’s pediatrician.
Even when all necessary precautions have been done, sickness will happen. The important thing is that when it does, you follow these same rules in order to not pass it off to others and just be there for your sick child. You will be their ultimate comfort, and if you notice anything that makes you feel concerned, contact the child’s pediatrician or our office as soon as possible. We can help relieve any worries you may have, or offer assistance should your child require further medical attention.