The excitement of a pregnancy and arrival of a new baby builds for months in anticipation of meeting the little one. But when the baby arrives, many parents struggle with handling the eager visitors who want to meet and hold the new bundle of joy. Shannon Glenn-Otto, M.D., a general pediatrician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, shares some useful guidance for first-time parents when it comes to visitors.
Is it OK for visitors to come over and hold my newborn baby?
You've been waiting so long to meet your little one, and there's no doubt your family and friends have been, too. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to newborn visitors, but it is important for new parents to set boundaries and take precautions so their new baby stays healthy. Parents should try to limit the number of visitors their babies come in close contact with overall. Consider having extended family and friends wait two to three months until your baby's immune system is stronger to plan their visits.
Are newborns more susceptible to germs and viruses?
Yes, newborns have not had time to develop their immune system, so they are at higher risk for developing infections from both bacteria and viruses. They are also more susceptible to developing serious infections, such as sepsis and meningitis. Newborns do not yet have the protection obtained from vaccinations, and their blood-brain barrier (protects infections from entering the brain) has not yet fully developed. This is why we consider a newborn younger than three months with a fever (temperature great than 100.4F) to be an emergency.
What are good hygiene practices when a new person is introduced to the baby?
Anyone who comes in close contact with a newborn should make sure to wash their hands first. It can also be helpful to remove any jewelry on the hands. As adorable as baby cheeks are, visitors should not kiss the baby or be too close to their face, as mouths carry a lot of germs. Having visitors wear masks can also help reduce the spread of germs. It's important to make sure visitors do not have any signs or symptoms of illness that could spread to the baby. Anybody with fevers, runny noses, coughs, diarrhea or other symptoms should not visit the baby until they are resolved completely.
For families uncomfortable with visitors so early on, what’s your advice on navigating those conversations?
There's no doubt lots of people will want newborn snuggles, but it's important that you do what is best for you and your new baby. Giving birth and having a newborn is exciting, but exhausting, even without the added stress of outside pressures. Parents should set firm boundaries on who they will allow to visit early on. If you have a partner, have this conversation ahead of time and agree on what rules you will set. Consider sharing in advance that you will be limiting visitors to keep the baby safe, and that you will let them know when you will feel comfortable having visitors. Emphasize that this is about keeping the baby healthy. At the end of the day, this is your baby and your decisions are valid. You don't owe anyone an explanation unless you want to give them one.
Should visiting family members be up-to-date on certain vaccines?
Yes, newborns are more likely to develop infections, especially before their vaccinations. One of these infections is pertussis, or whooping cough, which can be very serious in infants. All visitors should have an up-to-date Tdap vaccination to prevent infants from developing whooping cough. If it's flu season, it's important to have the annual flu vaccine, as flu can be life-threatening for infants. It is also a good idea for visitors to be up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccination and booster. All vaccinations should be administered at least two weeks before visiting to be most effective.
What about taking the baby out into the world?
Limiting exposure to busy places early on helps reduce the spread of germs in your susceptible newborn. Generally, we advise avoiding crowded places like malls, airplanes or theme parks until your newborn has had more time for their immune system to develop. If you're feeling cooped up with your newborn, consider taking them outside or for walks — just make sure to adequately protect them from the weather.
Any final advice for parents?
The newborn period is a time like no other, and something that should be a celebration for you and your loved ones. Keeping your baby safe during this time is of utmost importance, but don't forget to take care of yourself, too!