You’ve made it! Whether you’ve traveled minutes, hours, or days, you are standing outside the door of your favorite relative’s home and are about to ring the doorbell. You made the trip fairly easily (perhaps in part because you reviewed our expert tips in the Doulas of Baltimore blog on traveling with baby for the holidays with newborns), but now are trying to talk yourself out of hopping back in the car with your 27 pieces of paraphernalia and your precious newborn because you know that on the other side of that door wait two dozen relatives fighting over who gets to hold the baby first and all you’re worried about is keeping baby healthy. But it’s ok! We’ve got you covered.
Read on to get expert tips on keeping your baby healthy during holiday visits!
Just as traveling with an infant requires preparation, so does braving a crowd of well-meaning but quite possible germy loved ones. Your advance work will require a conversation or two with the hosts of the gatherings you’ll be attending, explaining that your pediatrician (always blame it on the pediatrician) has made you promise that NOBODY will be kissing the baby, not even on the tops of their heads or on their adorable little hands. You must ask that they do messenger duty and spread the word to other guests, and inquire about their supply of hand sanitizer (offer to bring your own, and follow up on that offer).
Some will scoff and some will reach anyway, but it is your duty to stand firm. Practice ahead of time how you will deliver the message to your loved ones, and think of a few allies you can enlist to help you reinforce your stance. Babywearing is always a subtle way to minimize unwanted contact with baby. While chubby cheeks are tempting when baby sleeps in your arms or your travel bassinet, we’ve yet to meet someone willing to reach down your shirt for a snuggle when baby is well tucked in!
Here’s why this is important: germs are sneaky and usually arrive unannounced.
According to Holly Musgrove, MSN, CRNP, a pediatric nurse in the Baltimore area, many common winter illnesses can be transmitted days before symptoms appear in a host. Thorough hand washing at a sink with soap and water is essential for anyone who handles a newborn. Hand sanitizer can help if used correctly, but will not be effective in killing gastrointestinal bugs. And, of course, the best hand washing will not stop mouth-to-skin transmission.
Musgrove advises, “I would not even take them into crowds if possible, so avoid large groups of people. Absolutely no kissing. I wouldn’t let anyone kiss that baby. I would take a hard stand on the ‘everyone must wash their hands’ rule. Any sign of illness means they need to stay away.” If you do suspect that the baby was exposed, Musgrove counsels to wash their hands and face immediately, and then watch vigilantly for signs of infection.
What are you watching for, and why? Because the flu season typically is in full swing by New Year’s, there is a very real risk of infection over the holidays, and influenza or RSV can hit babies hard. According to Musgrove, babies who are very sick may be subjected to invasive procedures such as spinal taps, and there is a risk of sepsis. The kiss is just not worth the risk. She says,
“I recommend that the entire family living in a house with newborns should get a flu shot if eligible.”
When to call the doctor??
A baby with a temperature needs to be taken seriously. Musgrove says, “Any newborn with a rectal temp over 100.4 should be seen by a doctor. Rectal is the only accurate way to get a core temperature. Every parent should have a rectal thermometer. If baby is fussier than normal or are not feeding as well and are not having as many wet diapers, it’s a sign that something is or could be going on.”
Not every new parent is aware that all pediatricians have on-call coverage 24 hours a day. If you are in any way concerned about your newborn’s symptoms, call and talk to the on-call pediatrician, no matter if it’s a holiday. “Don’t take your baby to the ER, which is a germ factory, without talking to your pediatrician first,” advises Musgrove.
You’ve rung the doorbell, air-kissed Aunt Pat and Uncle Bertie, waved and blown kisses to everyone else, and have changed a diaper. Now stake out a spot in the corner and settle in! Draw an imaginary line around you and your sweet little one, and send anyone who encroaches on your space off on an errand for you. You must keep yourself fed and hydrated, after all, and people will delight in bringing you offerings. Chances are good you’ve left a few things in the car that could be fetched by others. And by all means excuse yourself to find a dark room and a warm bed for nap times for both of you.
This is not likely to be the carefree family gathering you may remember from your child-free days, but it is the start of new love and new memories. Enjoy these days, and be well!