When I found out I was expecting my daughter, I was immediately filled with joy—and questions. How can I have a healthy and safe pregnancy? What can I do to make her entrance into the world the best it can be? Is she growing at the right speed? And of course, how can I protect her from COVID-19? Our little one will arrive in March, and while we are hopeful the pandemic will be continuing to ease at that point, my husband and I are beginning to discuss appropriate safety measures. We are both fully vaccinated, and because I’m eligible for a booster, I’ll be getting mine in a few weeks as soon as my six-month mark arrives.
However, I also know when she is earthside, all of our friends and family members will be eager to snuggle up to her. But should they? How can we introduce her to those we love the most while also giving her immune system a fighting chance? Here, I spoke with doctors about the best ways to keep a newborn healthy.
Why parents need to be careful and mindful
While we know a lot more about COVID-19 now than we did last year, we still don’t know the longer-term effect of contracting this viral illness, says Dana Wang, MD, with RIVIA Mind. Because of this, she says it’s understandable that parents are concerned for their children’s health, especially newborns.
“While we do know the data on children’s prognosis and outcome from getting COVID-19 show that they recover well from the acute illness, for the most part, there is no guarantee,” she says. “Newborns’ immunity is still forming, and they rely on the antibodies from breastmilk to provide extra protection.”
Because of this, Dr. Wang says it’s essential for mothers to get vaccinated so that they can pass on immunity through breast milk as much as possible.
Smart safety guidelines to follow
When your baby makes its grand entrance, you and your partner should discuss how you will handle interactions. These best practices come recommended:
Ask them to refrain from visiting if they feel unwell
Generally speaking, when anyone feels under the weather, they should refrain from interacting with other people. This is true in the age of COVID-19, but frankly, anytime. And particularly when they are meeting a newborn baby for the first time. Because newborns have developing immune systems, they’re more likely to get sick than you or your partner. Before you agree to host a visitor, ask them if they have a scratchy throat, if they’ve recently traveled via plane, or if they have been exposed to preschool-aged children, suggests Lisa Stern, a pediatrician and the medical advisor for Perelel.
Ensure they are up-to-date on their vaccinations
Remember: it’s your child, and you are their greatest advocate. Though the vaccination debate continues to spiral throughout the country, Stern says you can’t be too careful around brand new babies. She recommends that all visitors be updated on their vaccinations, including COVID-19, the seasonal flu, and the Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) vaccine. “As new parents, you will be setting boundaries to keep your baby healthy and safe,” she says.
If a family member cannot be vaccinated for a medical reason, they should quarantine and have a negative COVID PCR test before visiting, Stern says. And if someone chooses not to vaccinate, she says you will need to decide how to navigate the issue. “In this case, you may decide that they cannot visit just yet and will need to wait until your baby is older and has a more developed immune system,” she adds.
Having heated conversations about vaccinations probably isn’t something you’ll have energy for after giving birth to a child. Instead, give the task to your birthing partner, recommends Mandy Major, PCD (DONA), and spokesperson for Philips Avent. “Let your partner communicate these expectations with guests—the less stress for you, the better as you recover from the birth and get the hang of nursing/feedings,” she says. “A text or email ahead of time to set expectations—and have any discussions necessary in advance—is a good idea for guests.”
Require a mask
Anyone who enters your home post-delivery should be wearing a mask, regardless if they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or not, Stern urges. Ideally, this should be an N-95 mask, or at least a medical mask. New parents can consider purchasing a pack of these, so it’s readily available or even registering for masks for the baby shower. If a family member doesn’t want to wear a mask, Stern says they need to be properly quarantined—10 days following a negative PCR test—before meeting your baby.
Require hand washing and sanitizing
Another common practice for all visitors, even if they won’t be holding the baby, is to wash their hands with antibacterial soap, Stern says. “You don’t need germs from door handles, cell phones, and car keys finding their way onto the surfaces in your house,” she explains.
To make this simple, have hand wash and hand sanitizer readily available in your home so guests can easily go through this practice before getting close to your infant.
How to handle negative feedback
Conflict may arise, especially if your older relatives can’t understand all of your precautions. They may find it unnecessary, but remember, you get to decide what is best for your children. Dr. Wang says it’s best to be concise and firm with your boundaries instead of allowing room for negotiation.
“This way, it doesn’t feel like you are isolating certain people or giving special permissions to a certain group. It’s also easiest for you to manage the rule mentally if it’s one size fits all,” she says. “Just because it’s clear and firm doesn’t mean it can’t be warm and personable. Including a note from the baby’s perspective, such as ‘Hello, still new here, please protect me,’ sends the message without being offensive.”