Sunday, August 16, 2009

Infant Illness: How to Keep your Baby from Getting Sick

How can you keep your baby from becoming ill? Why is it so important to protect your baby from getting sick?

Infants are born with an immune system that is fully functioning but very immature. In order to make antibodies against illness, your baby needs to come in contact with the germs and make their own antibodies...nobody else can do it for them. There are two main ways that infants are protected from illness:

  • passive transfer from the mother, through the placenta, during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy gives infants 4-6 months of immunity to what their mother is immune to; for example, chickenpox
  • passive transfer from the mother through breastfeeding and this continues as long as the infant receives breastmilk for things such as respiratory illness & stomach viruses

Infants can still become sick with illness that their mother is not immune to and from a really strong exposure to an illness. The most common ways a baby becomes ill is through hand-to-hand contact from their caregivers or being exposed to someone that is coughing and sneezing. Babies do not get sick from drinking breast milk from a mother who is sick because the size of the cells are too large to pass through into the breast milk. Keep in mind that we can carry illness on our hands & in our bodily secretions that we do not become sick with and can expose the baby that way.

Now that you understand how a baby becomes sick, you can understand why it is important not to take them out in public places, have young children visit and allow sick friends and relatives to visit your new baby. Steps that you can take to keep your baby from becoming sick are:

  • limit the amount of visitors that come to see your new baby
  • do not allow anyone to visit if they are obviously ill
  • do not allow other infants & children to visit as they may carry illness
  • wash your hands with antibacterial soap & ask your visitors to wash their hands
  • if you become ill, wash your hands frequently, avoid coughing & sneezing near your baby, keep your hands away from your mouth and wear a mask if you can (they are available at places like Home Depot)
  • if a sibling becomes ill, separate them from the baby and, if possible, have another adult take care of them. Choose someone who will not have contact with the baby. Seclude mother & baby in a bedroom away from illness and use a different bathroom from the mother
  • clean surfaces frequently with an antimicrobial cleaner or wipe: countertops, faucets, sicks, toilets & toilet handles, doorknobs, telephones, kitchen utensils & plates, remote controls, car steering wheel, etc. Do not spray cleaners in the air because the baby could breathe the chemicals into their lungs.
  • avoid taking your baby out into public places where there can potentially be a lot of people
  • avoid taking your baby to other people's homes where there may a sick person or children
  • wash your hands before touching the baby

Doing these things may not completely protect your baby from illness but will help the illness be milder. Breast feeding your infant is the single, most important way to protect them from illness.

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