Protecting Your Newborn From the Preschool Pestilence
You’ve steered me in the right direction on advice before, and this time I’m thinking of some preemptive action. I have a preschooler, the same age as Ezra, approximately, and a new baby due in six weeks. I’m currently in the grips of a terrible terrible cold – it’s been two weeks and I haven’t seen a lot of improvement. The only upside was yesterday when I had a therapeutic cry about the whole thing because I was NEVER EVER GOING TO GET BETTER! and then that magically cleared up my sinuses and I felt immeasurably better!
Anyway, since my daughter will be bringing home no end of horrible pestilence from preschool (yes, it’s already started) do you have any tips for how to protect the new baby from sickness? With my first, she didn’t get sick at all until about 10 months old but she was pretty sheltered staying home with me and not at daycare or anything. But how do you stop a new baby from getting sick from its sibling, or worse, its mother?
crossing my fingers for a disease free fall,
Ack, the preschool pestilence. It’s the WORST. We’ve been pretty okay this year — just one runny nose for Ezra and some 24-hour stomach thing that leapfrogged over the boys and settled on me. That might not SOUND like “pretty okay” but compared to other years? Particularly Noah’s very first year of school? When Ezra was born that October? Oh, dear God. I thought I remembered how terrible it was, but then I recently went through my blog archives in search of compare-and-contrast newborn photos and HOLY HELL, just about every other entry mentioned being sick.
And Ezra got his first cold at three weeks old. And then another at six weeks.
(Aren’t you SO GLAD YOU ASKED ME ABOUT THIS? Good lord, it’s like the most Terrifying Advice Column On Earth.)
But perhaps we can all learn from my mistakes. Here are some things I wish I had done differently, knowing that I was heading into back-to-school cold season with a newborn:
1) Up the social life before school starts and/or before the baby arrives.
Group playdates. Open play at those indoor tumble gyms. Head to the petrie dish that is the Mall Play Area. I’m not saying go out and deliberately get your child sick or anything, but that was our big game-changer this time: The boys got exposed to tons of crap all summer (Noah at camps, Ezra at playdates/playgrounds/pools) when they were better able to fight the germs (not tired and worn out from school, cold weather, etc.) and only brought home mild complaints which were less contagious to me and the baby.
Since school and pestilence season is already upon you, well, it’s probably a good thing that your daughter and you are already dealing with a lot of the common bugs. In six weeks you’ll be way less susceptible to every little germ she encounters (in theory, anyway). I was sick quite a few times during my pregnancy with Ike, and he’s yet to catch anything (KNOCK ON WOOD GAH JINX), so who knows! Maybe your current suffering is already boosting your baby’s immune system.
2) Sibling Bonding or Health. There can only be one.
In retrospect, I should have been much, much tougher on quarantining baby Ezra from Noah. But I was so concerned about the sibling relationship and Noah’s jealousy and all that jazz, that I probably allowed him too much close contact with us when he was sick. Lots of kissing and hugs and holding the baby…all while his nose was leaking snot and he was coughing left and right. Obviously, Ezra’s little newborn colds weren’t really a big deal in the end, but a congested baby can have a hard time nursing so it’s also not something to treat too lightly. I don’t know the right call here, but be prepared to make a lot of judgment calls about how much close contact the adoring-but-coughing big sister can have with the new baby.
3) Hand washing.
Your hands, her hands, everybody’s hands. I admit I was never fanatical about people washing their hands before holding my babies — a little dirt n’ germs are good for ’em, and all — but during cold and flu season it really does pay to push the hand washing in a big way, ESPECIALLY for big sister. I’m not big on antibacterial gels and stuff — we got more sickness using them that winter than we EVER have since, using just old-fashioned soap and water. That’s pretty anecdotal and I think the jury is still officially out on antibacterial products and whether they help or hurt and blah blah blah, but in our experience, there’s just no substitute for a real sudsy, soapy handwash to keep the onslaught to a minimum. (Update Sept 2016: FDA bans sale of many antibacterial soaps saying risks outweigh benefits)
4) Get your flu shots.
I went years without flu shots, but always got one when I had a unvaccinated newborn in the house. I should have gotten one last year during my pregnancy but kinda put it off and forgot. I got the flu. TWICE. It was the worst thing ever. I seriously thought I was going to be hospitalized and die, not necessarily in that order. GET YOUR FLU SHOTS PREGNANT LADIES GAHHHH END SOAPBOX.
5) Nurse the baby no matter what.
You mentioned worrying about the baby getting something from you, and the best way to avoid that is breastfeeding. Even if you’re coughing and leaking snot all over his head, he’ll get antibodies for whatever you’re fighting in your milk. Let me say that I think the whole “breastfed babies never ever get sick!!” thing is way, way oversold, because uh, my breastfed baby got plenty sick. Breastmilk is wonderful stuff but it’s…you know, MILK. Not blessed superpowered manna from heaven. But point is: Your breastmilk might not protect your baby from his/her siblings’ illnesses, but it WILL protect him/her from YOURS.
6) Take. Care. Of. Yourself.
Take your vitamins, probiotics, water, healthy diet, get as much rest you can. You’re probably avoiding most OTC cold medicines right now, because of your pregnancy, right? If you haven’t already, call your doctor and ask what he/she thinks you can take. (Every doctor has a different opinion, it seems.) If you’ve tried those options already and are still sick, call back and ask for the Next Level Stuff. Maybe not the 100% best-most-safest pregnancy-approved stuff, but you know, not terrible and way better than like, passing out from fever or dehydration or something. At some point the risk/reward scenario shifts a little, because your baby needs you to be healthy, even if it means taking a stronger med than Robitussin. (When I had the flu I WISH I had started with something stronger that worked, rather than take dose after dose after dose of something that didn’t. I don’t really think that was any better for Ike than just attacking the illness as hard as I could from the start.)
It’s a whole different ballgame of drugs when you’re breastfeeding, though — you can probably take even less because they can dry you out and inhibit a healthy breastmilk supply. And antibiotics can up your chances of thrush. I fought back sinus infections while nursing with grapefruit seed extract (in tablet form), Neti Pots (omg hate, but they work), and standing in a hot shower blasting the water on my face full blast. But of course, talk to your doctor and see what they recommend. Here’s Kellymom’s list of cold remedies that are compatible with breastfeeding, and what to do if your newborn has a cold too. Bookmark it, learn, love it.
Again, at some point you may just need to cry uncle and take SOMETHING so you’ll get over the illness faster and be able to care for your children. It’s not selfish to recognize you’ve hit your breaking point and need some freaking medicine already. I was, no lie, probably bordering on some PPD after Ezra simply because I was so, so sick for days and nights on end, nursing and not breathing and not sleeping and my throat buuuurrrrrned and my ears hurt and then Noah was sick and needed me too and GAAAAAAAHHHHHHELPME.
And then like you, I had an hysterical middle-of-the-night cry because I was sick of being sick. Jason took the baby downstairs and slept on the couch and left me alone to sleep. I woke up and felt immeasurably better.
Good luck! I really think you’ll be okay since your baby will be coming after the First Wave has come through and trampled you down. By then your immune system should be able to get back up and fight the next wave more efficiently.
Photo credit: ThinkstockPublished October 5, 2011. Last updated September 14, 2016.