For first time parents or even seasoned parents, there is stress and fear when the day comes to bring their newborn home from the hospital.
“Anxiety surrounding bringing your newborn home is completely normal,” says Maulin Soneji, MD. “That’s just being a good parent. In the midst of the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, those concerns are heightened exponentially.”
Soneji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, addresses some common concerns and advises how best to keep a newborn safe during COVID-19.
How dangerous is COVID-19 for an infant?
“In general, physicians haven’t had many cases of neonates with COVID-19,” Soneji says. “While few newborns seem to be affected with symptoms of the disease, infants born prematurely or who have underlying conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from the disease.”
Should a baby wear a mask or face shield?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, face shields and masks can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome in babies. “Kids under the age of two and especially infants should not be wearing a face mask or face shield,” Soneji says. “These items are hazards for choking, strangulation and suffocation.”
Should parents increase cleaning in their houses?
Soneji suggests that parents continue their normal cleaning routine around the home while increasing handwashing and hand sanitizing. “There’s a balance between not living your life in fear but also not letting things get so behind that there’s a breeding ground for germs and viruses,” he says.
Is it safe to breastfeed?
Physicians are still recommending that mothers breastfeed their babies. “The precautions to take would be good hand hygiene before feeding the infant and wearing a mask while feeding them, if you have symptoms, have been exposed or have been diagnosed with COVID-19,” Soneji says.
What about clinic visits?
It’s important for a newborn to have in-person visits with their pediatrician to get routine vaccines for preventable illnesses and allow the pediatrician to assess a baby’s growth and development, Soneji says.
“Even though the pandemic is still ongoing, other illnesses have not ceased their spread,” he says. “Infants still need to receive their regular vaccines for things like polio, hepatitis B, etc. Additionally, if a child is falling behind on their growth milestones, we will help create a plan to ensure that they have access to therapies and develop regularly.”
How do parents protect their baby if they have COVID-19?
If a parent has been exposed or diagnosed with COVID-19, if possible, they should isolate themselves in a separate room and limit use of shared space, Soneji says. They should isolate themselves for 10 days after exposure or diagnosis if no symptoms develop.
“Of course, parents need to continue caring for and bonding with their child, but we recommend they wear masks at all times, sanitize shared spaces and wash their hands before every interaction with their baby,” Soneji says.
Is it safe for friends and family to meet the baby?
After bringing a newborn home, it’s generally such a special time to have family meet the baby for the first time. However, Soneji says it’s important to limit the number of people interacting with a newborn in person. “Some families have formed ‘COVID bubbles’ with their parents or in-laws where they see no one but each other and, in that circumstance, it may be okay to let those family members visit the baby,” he says. “But even then, they should wear a mask, wash their hands when they come into the home and especially not come around if they’re having any symptoms of illness.”
For those who aren’t in a family’s bubble, Soneji recommends showing the baby through the window or virtually. “If you’re family is wanting to fly or travel to you to see your baby, I would highly suggest they stay home,” he says. “As difficult as that may be, it’s the safest option during this pandemic. Delaying a full family introduction to your new baby is a small price to pay for everyone’s health and safety.”
The bottom line
“Parents are already experiencing so much stress bringing their newborn home,” Soneji says. “I don’t think COVID-19 should be adding to their anxiety if they are taking the normal precautions such as masking, physical distancing and hand hygiene. These steps will not only prevent the spread of COVID-19 elsewhere, but prevent its spread into their homes.”
For any reason, if parents are concerned, Soneji says they should reach out to their pediatrician and ask questions.