Will You Make People Wash Their Hands Before Touching Your Baby?

Will you make people wash their hands before touching your newborn?

Last fall I was invited to a baby shower.  It was one that took place after the baby had arrived, so that the mother’s family wouldn’t have to travel twice.  When we arrived, we were all invited to hold the baby if we wanted to.  “There’s hand sanitizer on the counter, or you can wash your hands in the sink,” the mother told us.

I thought, “Oh…okay…one of the moms who’s scared of germs.”  I wasn’t offended, and I used some of the sanitizer (although as it happens I didn’t hold the baby).

There are definitely two schools of thought on this: “Scrub your hands thoroughly before coming near my baby!” or “Eh, you can hold the baby, whatever.”

Which do you subscribe to?

I’ll confess that although I’m not offended by women who want me to scrub my hands before touching the baby (though I know some people are), I’ve never quite gotten the terror.  I’ve had newborns too…and personally have never made anyone wash their hands.  I don’t let people who are sick hold my new baby (I mean, come on), but as long as they’re generally well, I assume any germs they might have are rather benign.  The only time one of my babies has gotten sick is when someone who clearly was sick got near them…didn’t even hold them.

Then again I’m super lax about germs as it is.  When my kids are older, I don’t care if they eat dirt, chew cart handles (and no, I don’t wipe them down first), play with kids with runny noses, etc.  (Okay — the cart handle thing does bother me and I tell them to stop, but I don’t freak out.)  I’m not the person to get upset because a kid has the remnants of a cold, but is otherwise feeling and acting fine, and shows up at a playdate.  Assuming that said sick child doesn’t touch my newborn.

But I see the other side, too.  Whatever germs the family has — good or bad — the baby is exposed to.  And generally, as long as no one else is sick, the baby won’t be either.  But foreign germs?  Baby has no defenses against these.  Baby has no defenses against anything really, since his gut was sterile until birth and is just now getting populated…with whatever’s around him.  Does exposing him to whatever well-meaning friends and neighbors are bringing in make sense?  No!  Washing hands is just safer, to hopefully avoid this issue.  And if baby was a preemie or otherwise unusually fragile, maybe masks are a good idea too.

I really do understand that.  And occasionally when I ponder that, in relation to a very tiny baby, I want to hyperventilate and prevent anyone from ever coming near the baby.  But I would go insane because I can’t draw the line at “just” hand washing.  So I have to learn to let it go, personally.

And also, honestly?  I wonder how I would say such a thing without offending people.  I don’t want them to think I think they’re dirty, or germy, or intending to infect my baby.  I’m not offended when people ask me, but some people I’ve run into are really offended.  And I know, I know: just stand your ground and say, “My baby, my rules.” I don’t think I’d have a problem doing that this time around, with my third — I’m not exactly new to this ‘newborn’ stuff now — but I wasn’t confident enough to say it the first time for sure.  How do you handle that?  And what have you done if someone was offended?

So, bottom line: do you make people wash their hands before touching your baby?  Why or why not?  Until what age (baby’s age)?  And what if someone’s offended?

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