Protect your newborn from germs
Newborns are generally protected from germs by the antibodies in their mother's breastmilk, but they are still susceptible to germs because they don't yet have a fully developed immune system. Kerryn Kemp explains.

Newborn babies are generally protected from germs by the antibodies they receive through your placenta before birth, and through your breastmilk after, but they don’t yet have a fully developed immune system.

This is because their B cells, which are the cells that are most active in producing antibodies, do not respond to infection as well as they do later in life. This makes babies more susceptible to infection, as they are unable to mount an effective immune response.

Reasonable exposure to germs helps build a strong immune system, but up until a year and especially before three months of age babies need extra protection. While there is no need to keep them in a plastic bubble to avoid illness, there are some things you should do to protect young babies from a serious microbial attack:

  • Make sure your baby receives all her vaccinations
  • Wash your hands well with soap and water before picking up your baby and before feeding her or preparing her food – especially after you have changed her nappy, handled raw food, been to the toilet or been out shopping. Inadequate hand washing has been identified as the leading cause of illness due to transfer of germs
  • When cleaning out your baby’s room, wash down the changing table, cot or bassinet with a mild detergent and water. To disinfect, especially after your baby has had diarrhoea or a stomach bug, wipe surfaces with a bleach solution (mix one tablespoon of regular household bleach with one litre of water). Allow the items to dry for at least 30 seconds, or dry with a paper towel
  • Try to vacuum the house at least once a week, as hair and dust mites cling to carpet fibres. If your home is tiled, use a mild detergent and water solution to mop up. 
  • Sterilise bottles, breast-pump parts and dummies religiously, either by boiling or using a sterilising solution or electric or microwave steam steriliser. Scrub teats with coarse salt to remove traces of milk
  • Avoid putting your baby’s dummies in your own mouth or allowing siblings to share, especially in the early weeks. Rinse dummies in boiling water between sterilising to freshen
  • Limit your baby’s exposure to germs by avoiding crowds and people with colds and flu. Ask people who are ill to stay away until they are germ-free
  • Don’t allow anyone to smoke in the house. Even if someone smokes in another room, the particles will cling to all surfaces and your baby will come into contact with them
  • Keep pets out of the room your baby sleeps in and use a cat net on her pram. Make sure all your pets have been properly dewormed.

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