Irish Pharmacist Sheena Mitchell and mum of three, took to the airwaves in recent days to arm new parents with important information to keep their new babies safe. Cuddling, sniffing, and kissing a newborn baby is a joy, it’s no wonder that science has proven this to be true, not just of the mother but other women and fathers too.
For mothers these acts release oxytocin, often referred to as 'the love hormone', which helps new mothers to build positive attachments with our babies. In fact, this biological response stays with us long after we have reared our own children. Interestingly, the same is true when we sniff our babies and not just for mums but for dads too. The smell of a new baby and getting to cuddle one, not just your own, releases dopamine into the region of the brain associated with reward, and it can be addictive!
But is it safe to let family members and friends kiss your brand new baby? The answer according to Irish Pharmacist Sheena Mitchell is NO.
Speaking on her latest podcast season where the Irish Pharmacist explores a whole range of highly infectious diseases that typically affect babies and children. Sheena warns new parents to wait until the baby is at least 3-months old before passing them around. Outlining the risks for baby, the medical advice from the Irish Pharmacist is that these risks are far greater than that of offending your nearest and dearest. She even encourages new parents to share her dedicated podcast episode ‘Should you let people kiss your newborn?’ with friends and family members so that they can hear it directly from a medical professional.
The fact of the matter is that newborn babies don’t even get their first vaccines until they are around 2-months of age, so it is the first 12-weeks when they are at their most vulnerable. After this point in time, loved ones who are healthy and well can be reassured that you will be happy for them to kiss, cuddle and even mind the baby for you while you steal a shower or sleep.
Pharmacist Sheena Mitchell and mum of three young children understands first-hand that it can be a really awkward situation for new parents. She says, “Communicating that you don’t want people kiss your tiny vulnerable baby is not easy as it is an expression of love during a very happy time. Grandparents in particular seem to think they are the exception to the rule.”
“It is worth pointing out that people can be carrying germs that they are completely unaware of because they are feeling well. This often happens when we have developed an immunity to a disease through infection. However, this just highlights the fact that someone visiting your baby may appear healthy but can still be carrying a potentially deadly infection for your newborn baby.”
The founder of the WonderCare podcast and health advice platform www.wondercare.ie says that the total relaxation of mask wearing and social distancing in our post-Covid era has resulted in people just assuming its ok to now kiss the baby.
“Let me be clear, it was never ok for anyone but mum or dad to kiss the baby,” says Pharmacist, Sheena Mitchell. “I’d even go as far as to say that siblings should be encouraged to wash their hands and have very limited close contact with a newborn until their immune system is more robust. This is particularly important when it comes to those at the toddler or preschool age, who will be more likely to be exposed to nasty viruses and less careful in terms of hygiene.”
Sheena reminds new parents that, “Babies have died from contracting infection through a simple kiss. The warning doesn’t get much more real than that. You are their parent, their protector, their voice, their advocate, you may ruffle some feathers, but you have to put your baby’s safety first. A newborn baby does not have a strong enough immune system to fight off infection until they are around 3-months old.”
The family health podcaster, likes to blend practical advice with her medical knowledge. Sheena advises parents who are struggling to explain their wishes to people, not to feel guilty. She offers simple practical tips to impart this information to loved ones, especially those who might receive this news sensitively.
- A newborn baby’s immune system is too immature to fight disease, they can get very sick, very quickly. With their developing immune systems babies are at their most vulnerable up to 3-months of age.
- Kissing a baby can spread germs that can lead to severe illness.
- Some common illnesses that may put your newborn at risk include:
- Herpes Simplex Virus. This virus is very common and causes cold sores. However, a young baby will contract neonatal herpes from this virus which can be very serious as their immune system is not able to fight it. This virus also has the potential to spread to a baby’s organs with the first 4-weeks after birth being the riskiest period babies contracting this virus. Babies with this virus will need antiviral medication administered in hospital and even with treatment some babies will die from it.
- RSV – Respiratory Syncytial Virus. This virus can cause severe breathing problems in babies and can affect their heart and brain as well. It’s important to note that anyone can be carrying RSV, even an adult that seems well. They could be asymptomatic as they have developed an immunity or resistance to the virus.
- Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease. This rash will make your newborn baby a lot sicker than it will your toddler, causing them a lot of pain and discomfort. Children under 10-years of age are most likely to be carrying this disease.
- Pre-warn your family and friends before you have the baby that you will not be passing the little one around to avoid any nasty viruses doing the rounds.
- Be Gentle with older grandparents by allowing them to hold the baby providing they use hand sanitiser, but kissing the baby is strictly off limits.
- Emphasise that it is not personal, and you are not paranoid, your baby is your number one priority, and you want to keep them safe and well.
- Reassure loved ones that as soon as your baby has recovered from their first vaccinations around the 2-3 month mark, you will happily allow kisses and cuddles with your little one.
- Hand Hygiene is really important for mum and dad during the first couple of months of baby’s life, and in particular for young siblings who may want to show the baby love. Avoid using the same towel as your baby to limit any cross-infection.
- Insist that visitors to your home in those early weeks of your new baby’s life only call if they are feeling well. Similarly, young visitors are not welcome unless they too are well, and they will not be allowed to hold or kiss the baby just yet.
- Stay Strong and level-headed. You are entitled to put boundaries in place to protect your baby and their underdeveloped immune system. Don’t let accusations of being overprotective or guilt laid at your door because of other people’s hurt feelings, upset you. This can be hard as a very hormonal and tired new mum, don’t be afraid to let your partner take charge of communicating your wishes if you’re not feeling up to it.
- Share the 10-minute WonderCare.ie ‘Kissing Baby’ Podcast Episode with friends & family. Let Irish Pharmacist Sheena Mitchell and mum of three share her no-nonsense advice and tips on your behalf.
If your very young baby is running a high temperature over 38 degrees, not feeding, suddenly lethargic or difficult to wake, is struggling to breathe or breathing very fast – this is an emergency situation. Seek immediate medical attention by calling 112 or taking your baby to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Listen to the third series of the popular WonderCare.ie podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. With the entire series dedicated to highly infectious diseases that typically affect babies and children, parents will learn what to watch out for and tips to make their little one more comfortable while aiding recovery.