When I was pregnant with my daughter I had a sobering moment in my last trimester when I realized soon my child would be here in the real world of movie-theater shootings, Ebola and Donald Trump without my womb to protect her. Anyone who’s a parent realizes the paranoia you commit yourself to with your firstborn. Those first few months you’ll boil bottles and prepare bleach baths for toys you swear you see germs doing the "1,2 Step" on in a tireless battle against the common cold, strep throat and herpes.
Yes, you read that right. Herpes happens, and not just to sex-crazed celebrities or x-rated rappers, but to newborns too. Claire Henderson, a mother from Doncaster, England posted pictures of her newborn to Facebook who contracted the virus when a family member got a little too close. She captioned the pictures with a message to moms as to why it’s important to not let anyone, including friends and family kiss your baby:
“Please share this with every new mum and pregnant woman you know... COLD SORES CAN BE FATAL FOR A BABY. Before 3 months old a baby cannot fight the herpes virus. If a baby contracts this it can cause liver and brain damage and lead to death. I know this sounds like I am scaremongering but if my friend had not told me about this my baby girl could have been very seriously ill. I noticed the signs early and got her to A&E, we have now been in hospital on a drip for 3 days and have got another 2 to go. She was VERY lucky, all her tests came back clear. The moral of the story is DO NOT let anyone kiss your newborns mouth, even if they don't look like they have a cold sore- 85% of the population carry the virus. And if someone had a cold sore ask them to stay away until it has gone. Everyone who I have spoken to had not heard of this before and so I felt it was important to share Brooke's story and raise awareness to stop anyone else going through what we have this week.”
I barely let my daughter see sunlight for the first three months of her life. Whether you believe in vaccinations or not, germs are real and newborns’ immune systems simply aren’t developed enough to fight off certain germs and diseases. Friends and family may be eager to see your baby, but it’s important to limit their contact and emphasize that they practice good hygiene such as washing hands and taking a rain check when they’re feeling under the weather themselves. It’s not only good for your baby’s health, but your sanity as well. I think it’s important for babies to bond with their parents for those first few weeks. After having a c-section, the last thing I wanted to do was entertain visitors in between popping Percocets and being careful not to rip my stitches. Trust me, that baby isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and you’ll have plenty of time for play dates when you aren’t fresh from the delivery room.
So why was someone with herpes kissing on a baby and even worse, how did any mother allow this to happen? According to the New York State Department of Health, about 70% of adults in the United States are infected with HSV-1 and may shed the virus in the saliva at any point in their lifetime even if cold sores and other symptoms are never present. This means there is a good chance that those who are infected with HSV-1 may not even be aware they have it. HSV-1 can be very severe in newborns and sometimes even fatal due to their underdeveloped immune systems. It’s also important to keep in mind that although herpes can be treated, it can’t be cured. Although someone may not be having an outbreak where cold sores are present, this doesn’t mean they aren’t infected and they can still spread the virus.
Most doctors recommend having a very high threshold for visitors during the first two to three months of your newborn’s life. Pediatrician, Lane France recommends that when you do have visitors to ask them to “scrub up” before holding the baby and to restrict anyone who is sick. They also might want to save the mouth kisses for “Netflix and chill” and not your newborn.
When it comes to parenting, the germs will always win but if you’re lucky it won’t be anything a little chicken soup and Children’s Tylenol won’t solve. In the meantime, when it comes to your newborn, their best defense against germs and other dangers is you. That "new mom" friend you have isn't being obsessive by passing you the hand sanitizer when you offer to push the stroller. I literally just jumped up from writing this mid-paragraph because my 11-month-old was taste-testing a Q-tip, and this is just the beginning of a day filled with her and the dog exchanging chew toys. Believe me, it only gets worse. In the meantime be sure to keep the Lysol on stand-by and limit the kissing cousins.