Your new, healthy, gorgeous baby has arrived home. However, the first few days after birth represent a critical developmental period when a baby’s immune system must adapt. Newborns are susceptible to infection during the first few weeks of life because their immune system are immature or underdeveloped. Practicing good hygiene is essential to keep your baby happy and healthy. Here are some hygiene tips to follow with your infant.
1. Wash your hands
Washing your hands is very important. It is essential for removing harmful bacteria and germs that can make your child very sick. Wash with a good antibacterial soap, lathering all over and dry thoroughly before handling your baby. It is always a good idea to have a few liquid sanitiser bottles around the house too. You can squirt as you pass and encourage visitors to use it before handling your child. It is very important that everyone that handles your child has clean hands.
2. Don’t expose your baby to people unless you have to
As your child’s immune system is very sensitive after birth, it is recommended that you keep your baby away from large groups of people as much as possible. If your child is premature, it is especially important not to expose them to a lot of people until they are around six weeks old. If your baby is exposed to lots of people, they may come into contact with someone who is sick. By keeping them away you can prevent your baby from catching any infections. If you do have visitors at home, encourage them to wash their hands or sanitise before going near the baby and make it very clear that noone should visit if they are feeling at all unwell.
To limit your baby’s exposure to harmful germs and microbes, keep your home clean. Clean the floors using a disinfectant solution. Focus on sanitising the areas your baby uses. If your baby uses a milk bottle, wash and sterilise it after each use to remove the unwanted germs.
If your child uses a pacifier, it is important to sterilise this before and after every use. The best way to sterilise is to place the object in boiling water for 5 minutes.
4. Change Nappy frequently
Changing your baby’s nappy often and as soon as possible after bowel movements prevents infections and nappy rash. Always wash your hands with soap and running water after handling dirty nappies to stop germs spreading.
How to change a nappy correctly:
▪ Open the dirty nappy and wipe away the worst of the excretion with the front of the nappy. Tuck it under her bottom with the clean side facing up.
▪ Wipe your baby’s bottom from front to back, gently lifting his/her legs by the ankles to wipe under their bottom.
▪ Pat your baby’s bottom dry with a clean towel, or wait until it dries naturally. Never rub the baby’s bottom with a rough cloth or in a harsh manner as the babies skin is very delicate and can easily get damaged (most likely cause a rash).
▪ Apply a thin layer of barrier cream to your baby’s bottom.
▪ Take the used nappy out from under your baby and place into the rubbish with the soiled wipes or cotton wool. If you’re using a cloth nappy, put it into a wet bag, and just bin anything disposable such as liners and wipes.
▪ Slide a new nappy under your baby and fasten over their stomach.
5. Umbilical Cord Care
It is important that you keep the umbilical cord stump and surrounding skin clean and dry to prevent infection and to speed up the healing process. The stump usually falls of between 1-2 weeks.
How to clean it:
1. Avoid using any cotton swab or wipe for the umbilical stump.
2. Avoid using disinfectant powders or creams over the umbilical stump. After a certain period of time, once the active ingredient is finished, creams and powders may act as a nidus for infection.
3. The best thing to clean the umbilical cord is 90% proof alcohol. You can use an alcohol swab and throw after use. Do this at least once or twice daily until the stump is completely healed (usually 7-10 days after the cord has fallen off).
4. Avoid any crusting over the umbilical stump as infection may brew under the crust.
6. Finger Nails
If your child has dirty nails and they suck their fingers, germs can enter their bodies. If their nails are long and sharp, they also risk scratching and hurting themselves. Always try and keep your babies nails clean and trimmed. The best way to trim your child’s nails is when they are asleep as they are less likely to wriggle. You can get little clippers for babies which have rounded tips and some have a little magnifier so its easy to see what you are doing. Just be careful when you are clipping them as it is common to clip the tips of their fingers as you do this. Another good way is peeling the nails off or filing them.
Only wash the outside of your babies ears with a wet cloth/cotton wool. Never insert cotton ear buds into his/her tiny ears. If your baby is sensitive when you do this and obviously unhappy then consult your doctor as it could be a sign of an ear infection.
You can use a damp cloth to remove mucous from your babies nose. If there is too much and your baby is struggling to breath through their nose then you can try to syringe the mucous out. You can find a nose syringe in any baby shop/pharmacy.
Try and keep your babies eyes clean and clear of any dried mucous. Again use a damp cloth or wet cotton wool and gently wipe them. It is common for newborns to get “sticky eye” which is a blocked tear duct. If you notice a whitish collection of mucous that is building up in the corner of your newborns eyes then you can gently massage it. Massage towards the nose six times a few times throughout the day. This will help unblock the ducts. After the massage you can wipe with a clean cloth and remove excess mucous. If the sticky eye persists, it is recommended to take your baby to the paediatrician where they may prescribe some drops.
It is up to you as a parent how many times you wish to bath your baby but it is recommended to bath them everyday. Use a soft cloth, warm water and mild soap and shampoo. Look for soap which doesn’t have many additives or fragrances; the shorter the ingredients, the better. Start by washing the face with plain, warm water. Clean the eyes, ears and nose with the wet cloth and then move onto cleaning the rest of the body. Put Soap all over the body (except face and umbilical cord). Make sure you wash in all your babies hidden areas, the creases and folds. Put mild soap/shampoo on your babies hair. Don’t be afraid to gently shampoo the soft spots to prevent cradle cap (yellow scaly flakes).
After the bath, you can pat your baby dry with a clean towel and towel dry their hair.
If you decide to massage your baby after their bath, make sure you use products which are sensitive to your babies skin. Use well known baby products and no adult oils or creams with perfumes as it can irritate their delicate skin.
You can put oil all over your child, including their head for good moisturisation.
Don’t leave your baby alone with pets or near pets. Make sure your pets don’t get into the crib with your baby. When your baby is very young, don’t allow the family dog or cat to lick your baby’s face. This could transmit infectious material (such as faeces) into the baby’s mouth or eyes. Make sure that anyone who has come into contact with your pets washes their hands thoroughly before touching your baby.
Always store your baby’s clothes in a separate closet or laundry basket. You should take care not to mix his/her clothes with any other family members. You need to do this so bacteria from the families clothes don’t get transmitted to the babies.
Don’t panic if your child gets a little cough or cold. Minor infections and illness’ are common in young babies. Occasionally babies can get very sick due to infection and they may develop symptoms such as a soaring temperature, rashes and a high pitched cry. If your child gets very sick, don’t hesitate to go to the emergency room.
You just have to be very careful in the first month or two but once your baby becomes mobile and begins exploring its world, you can relax a bit as their immunity with strengthen in time.