My second baby is due soon. I’m having so much germ phobia! How will I protect my baby from getting sick when my three-year-old daughter is bringing home god knows what from preschool every day? I’ve had six colds this pregnancy compared to ONE the first time. It seems hopeless! Give me hope. – sick and scared
Dear sick and scared,
One of the hardest things about having more than one child is not just the sharing of love and attention, but the sharing of germs. This familial petri dish of love and infection can make you feel like you have to try to protect your kids from each other. And that’s not only heart-wrenching; it’s pretty much impossible. If you’re trying to keep your baby totally insulated from what your eldest drags in, it probably is hopeless. (And it could create a sense of hostility that can infect the family in other ways, too.) So while we can’t promise you a calm and sterile future, we can give you some ways to minimize the flow of germs, manage your anxiety, and offer other kinds of hope.
You can teach your child to wash her hands frequently, avoid the baby’s face, and stay out of range when she’s sick. Three is old enough to learn about basic hygiene anyway – nose-blowing, cough-covering – but maybe not old enough to reliably remember it all the time. So it’s your job to both remind her (gently – you don’t want to make her feel any more alienated than she already does), and more importantly, to pick up the slack with your own habits. Take hand-washing seriously yourself, and ask other people who will handle your baby to do the same. It’s a basic request. No need to feel like a germ freak for making it. If you get sick yourself, you’ll obviously need to be a bit more careful. Nursing mothers do offer their babies some of their own antibodies, which can help fight off an illness, or help keep a nasty one in check.
If your baby does get sick early on, don’t panic. This is incredibly common; take a quick survey of second-time parents for proof. And while a real fever in a young newborn is NOT something to take lightly (doctors often recommend a spinal tap to check for meningitis), a cold is usually no big deal. Second kids often get their first colds when they’re just weeks old. This is no fun, but it’s nothing to freak out about.
Parents of multiple kids often end up developing a relaxed stance about germ transmission. On the bright side, there’s the hope that a bunch of colds early on can equal a tougher kid come preschool. So while you may lose the war on germs, you may just win the battle on germ-phobia. Here’s hoping.
Note: If you start to feel truly freaked out about the need for cleanliness and control (over germs or anything else) after your baby’s born, it’s worth looking into a consultation for postpartum O.C.D. This is a fairly common condition, and it usually gets better quickly with treatment.
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