Bringing a baby home used to mean a flood of visitors with frozen lasagnas where the only precaution typically taken was washing hands with soap and water. With COVID-19 remaining a very real concern though, parents welcoming a newborn are now having to determine what’s safe and what’s smart when it comes to allowing extended family to visit during the pandemic. To get specific guidance, we chatted with three doctors for their advice on how to make newborn introductions right now.
Safety practices to follow
A new baby is most vulnerable during its first six weeks of life. If he contracts a fever, it means a trip to the emergency room with a resulting sepsis workup, says Sharon Nachman, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “We often tell families to restrict visiting during those weeks,” she says. The key idea is cohorting: It’s better to visit with a small cohort for a long time than a large cohort for a short time, Dr. Nachman says. In other words, keep your circle as tight as possible.
When you’re thinking about who may visit, it’s also smart to be critical in determining how well your potential visitors have maintained social distancing and isolation from other potential viral carriers. Have they been working from home? Have they had groceries and goods delivered instead of going inside stores? What’s more, how likely is it that your visitors will be able to follow the measures you put in place to protect you and your baby from possible exposure, poses Jay Lovenheim, D.O., F.A.A.P. of Lovenheim Pediatrics.
It’s a good idea to consult with your OB and your baby’s pediatrician and then decide exactly when you’ll allow some visitors and what you should ask them ahead of time. When you are ready to introduce your baby, keeping visitors behind a glass window or door is a safe option. The next safest is being outside and at least 6 feet apart, Dr. Lovenheim says.
“As a pediatrician, I am as concerned about the parents as the newborn,” says Leann Poston M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed. of Invigor Medical. That means that even if you don’t allow visitors to hold the baby, you need to keep your own safety in mind. Everyone in the house or outdoor space should wear a mask, and have anyone who may touch your baby wash their hands rather than wear gloves, as gloves tend to get cross-contaminated, Dr. Poston advises.
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Getting cozy with siblings
When it comes to older siblings, you can generally relax more. As long as they’ve been practicing responsible social distancing and are not currently sick, brothers and sisters should pose no greater concern than the mother and father of the new baby, Dr. Lovenheim says. As always, just make sure kids wash their hands before being close with the baby. And if you do think your older child is sick or has had any potential COVID exposure, then have her wear a mask as well, Dr. Lovenheim advises.
Dr. Poston agrees that restrictions aren’t necessary for people living in the same home. “They are all going to be exposed to the same germs anyway and the psychological impacts would probably outweigh any physical risks,” she adds.
“It’s important for siblings to interact with the newborn,” Dr. Nachman says. “You don’t want them to feel like the baby is a special prize that they can’t touch.” But with the New York metro area in phases 1 and 2 of reopening and day camps getting the greenlight, it’s extra important to cut down on risk as much as possible. Help young children interact safely with the baby. Show them how to touch the baby’s feet instead of hands.
Is having visitors worth it?
While coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon, it’s a small relief to see that cases of COVID-19 are decreasing in parts of the country, including New York. “It may be time to begin to expand our social distancing to include some family and friends,” Dr. Lovenheim says. This is especially true if you have visitors coming from a place where the viral prevalence is relatively low, he adds.
When determining whether a visit is worth it for your family, consider any factors that may place you or your new baby in a higher risk category, Dr. Lovenheim urges. This might include low birth weight, neurological disorders, or respiratory difficulties for the baby, or being immunocompromised for the parent. In such cases, a virtual introduction is probably best.
If you weigh the risks versus the benefits and decide to have visitors, you stand to benefit a great deal emotionally and psychologically. Having a baby is wonderful, but it’s also incredibly stressful, no matter what your circumstances may be. “Having friends and family around us who help us cope and who we lean on when things get tough is important,” Dr. Lovenheim says. “It may be the difference in a new mother succumbing to postpartum depression or not.”
Is my baby sick?
There have been very few reported severe COVID illnesses in this age group, but if you’re worried that your newborn may have contracted the virus, the symptoms to watch for include shortness of breath, runny nose, fever, extreme fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, and an inability to eat, Dr. Poston says.
When in doubt, call your doctor. And that goes for any symptoms in your newborn that worry you. Infants younger than 3 months are at increased risk for sepsis, an overwhelming infection because of their immature immune systems, Dr. Poston warns.
COVID-19 Newborn Safety Crib Sheet
- Wait 6 weeks before allowing visitors
- Limit visitors to as few as possible
- Have the visit take place outside, if possible
- Have visitors wash their hands before, during, and after they visit
- Maintain a social distance of 6 feet
- Everyone wears a face mask
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Whitney C. Harris is a freelance writer and NYMetroParents’ Manhattan and Westchester calendar editor. She lives in Sleepy Hollow, NY, with her husband, a toddler, a preschooler, and a dog.
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