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Published on December 17, 2018

mother playing with her newborn

Mom Talk: How to Keep Newborns Safe During Cold & Flu Season

By Katie Daniel, Avera Health Writer/Editor

As my December due date neared, I counted down the days until I could kiss, cuddle and snuggle our little one. I also couldn’t wait to watch family and friends shower him or her with their love and affection. What could be a sweeter sight!  

However, with a due date right in the thick of cold and flu season – I learned that the kisses may just have to wait.

That’s because the immune system of a newborn is still immature, which makes him or her especially vulnerable to illnesses within the first 6 months.

“We’re really protective of them during that time because their bodies aren’t equipped to fight off new things – like viruses and bacteria – on their own,” says Courtney Backer, MD, a pediatrician with Avera Medical Group. “They rely on antibodies that are passed on from mom – prior to birth and through breastfeeding, when possible – to fight infection.” 

Simple Prevention Steps

There is good news; however. This doesn’t mean you need to hibernate all winter with your newborn (unless you want to!) Instead, follow these simple steps – and encourage your family and friends to, as well – to provide your little one with some much needed protection.

1. Get the flu shot.

This is important and safe, not only for the mom, but for everyone who will be around the baby.

“It’s simply the best way to protect them,” says Backer. “Since babies can’t receive the flu shot until they’re 6 months old, they rely on others being immunized and protected from it.”

2. Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer.

Frequent handwashing with soap and water or using hand sanitizer, especially before holding the baby, is one of the most important things to do each day, according to Backer.

“It’s simple, but so effective – a great way to prevent infection.”

3. Cover your cough and sneeze.

Viruses – like influenza and RSV – spread through the secretion of droplets containing the virus, especially when coughing or sneezing.  Remembering to cover your mouth properly, such as coughing or sneezing into your shoulder, or even better, into a tissue, can make it less likely to spread. And don’t forget to wash your hands afterward too.

4. Hold on the kisses – for now.

A recent social media campaign encouraged people not to kiss babies during the cold and flu season. Backer agrees this is good advice because – just like coughing and sneezing – viruses travel easily that way.  

“It’s also important to remember that we can be contagious even without having any symptoms,” she adds. “It’s best to be overly careful, especially during those first 6 months. Even if you don’t show any signs of being sick, save your kisses for later.”

When to See a Doctor

It’s important to see a doctor if you notice any of the following signs or symptoms within your newborn’s first four weeks:

  • Cold body – rectal temperature below 96.8 degrees F
  • Fever – rectal temperature above 100.4 degrees F
  • Fewer wet diapers – less than six each day
  • Increased difficulty waking up
  • Increased irritability
  • Not eating well

This cold and flu season – whether or not you have any symptoms – err on the side of caution. Greet babies with a smile and follow the parents’ or caretakers’ lead when it comes to holding. There will be plenty of time to catch up on kisses and cuddles later!

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