How to keep your baby healthy this winter. Plus, the expert advice on making it through the flu season
Winter means holiday outings, celebrations with family and friends … and, for new parents, worries about their baby’s health. From when it’s safe to take a newborn out for the first time (especially in cold weather), to what to do if your child catches a cold or a more serious respiratory infection, here are answers to your most commonly asked questions.
When is it OK to take my new baby outside?
Keep a newborn home for the first few weeks and limit the number of visitors who handle the baby during this time. This is especially crucial during winter and early spring, which are prime times for contracting respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), colds and the flu. Particularly avoid taking a newborn to crowded places such as supermarkets, shopping malls and restaurants and on airplanes. “In the first month of life there’s an advantage to keeping babies away from crowds,” says Patricia Keener, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.
How warmly should I dress my baby when we go out?
Follow this rule of thumb: If you feel cold, your baby is even colder, so bundle her up. And pay special attention to her head. “Infants lose about 50 percent of their body heat from their heads,” says Ed Glasser, M.D., associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. Cover her head with a thermal cap, and in wet weather layer a waterproof cap over that. In fact, layering makes sense for an infant in general during winter. Babies don’t do well in excessive heat, either, so avoid overdressing them or wrapping them in too many blankets. It’s a good idea to remove outer layers of your baby’s clothing as soon as you come inside.
Winter’s cold air, wetness and blustery winds are hard on an infant’s soft, tender skin as well, so be sure to keep your baby’s face protected if you do go out in these conditions. If the windchill factor is below zero, stay indoors.
What is RSV, and what should I do if my baby gets it?
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common but potentially serious infection that usually occurs from late fall to early spring. It can cause coldlike symptoms, such as low-grade fever, runny nose, coughing and sore throat. In fact, what appears to be a cold in an adult may actually be RSV. The infection is contagious and is most dangerous for premature infants and full-term babies younger than 6 weeks.
Because it is a virus, RSV doesn’t respond to antibiotics; however, a number of treatments are available to relieve symptoms. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should contact your pediatrician if you suspect your baby may have RSV, especially if she shows signs of more serious infection, including irritability and restlessness, poor appetite, difficult or rapid breathing or wheezing (put your ear to your baby’s chest and listen for a raspy sound). Unless there are complications such as pneumonia, most full-term babies with RSV do not need hospitalization. For more information, visit www.rsvinfo.com.