Newborns and young infants are especially vulnerable to infectious diseases, particularly pertussis (whooping cough) and influenza. If your baby were to contract either of these, their life could be threatened, and they could end up in the hospital.
In 2015, the CDC observed more than 20,000 cases of pertussis (in 2012, that number was over 48,000—the highest since 1955), which is entirely preventable. And 218 children under the age of 5 died of pneumonia or the flu.
Pertussis is especially risky for newborns because routine immunization doesn’t start until 2 months of age and it takes more than one vaccination to get full immunity. Also, babies don’t routinely get flu shots until at least 6 months old. So, how do you protect your baby from these potentially deadly infections in the meantime?
A Cocoon of Protection
Public health and medical experts alike are now recommending that parents build a cocoon of protection around their newborns and infants. This means everyone who will be around the baby—family, babysitters, friends—needs to be current on all vaccines, which surrounds the baby with “herd” immunity.
Adults need the seasonal flu vaccine each year. And, the pertussis vaccines that we all received as children don’t last a lifetime. Currently, the CDC recommends pertussis vaccination or a booster for the following:
- All women who are trying to conceive, who are pregnant at a gestational age of at least 20 weeks or more, or who are postpartum. The Tdap vaccine can be given anytime during pregnancy but is recommended at 27 to 36 weeks gestation because it helps baby get the biggest boost of antibodies from mom. This gives baby the most protection against pertussis at birth and in the earliest months
- Any adolescent ages 11 to 18 who may have completed childhood vaccinations and will now need one lifetime booster
- Adults of all ages, especially parents, grandparents, caregivers and anyone who will be providing care for a baby, particularly infants ages newborn to 12 months
Prepare for your baby’s birth by having dad, grandparents and babysitters vaccinated ahead of time.
Build Your Cocoon
The CDC also advises the following to protect and build your baby’s immunity, especially in her first 6 months.
Breastfeed your baby: Strive to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. Breastfed babies have fewer respiratory infections and other illnesses.
Wash your hands thoroughly: Everyone should do this each time they touch or care for baby. Wash for at least 20 seconds with warm soap and water, and carry hand sanitizer to use when soap and water aren’t handy.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth: And baby’s too; most germs are spread this way.
Avoid sick people: Remember, not all sick people have a fever. Avoid people who are coughing, sneezing, complaining of new aches or pains, or being treated for an infection. Keep baby out of large crowds.
Practice safe coughing: Into your elbows or a tissue to be discarded; never cough into your hands.
Get vaccinated: Require all household, family members and others who will have contact with your baby to get both the Tdap and flu vaccines, as well as any other missing adult vaccinations. Require proof of vaccination for babysitters and nannies.