Although you may be tempted to, you can't eliminate germs from every surface in your home, but O'Brien says that's not a necessarily a bad thing. "They need to be exposed to them. It's how they build up their immune systems," she says.
Many parents wonder how they can keep germs in check, though. O'Brien suggests frequent hand washing to prevent them from spreading. "Germs are often spread because a child touches... somebody else's hand or a contaminated toy. Then they touch their eye or their nose or their mouth," says O'Brien. Start teaching proper hand washing at a very young age. You should aim for your child to wash for 20 seconds in warm, soapy water. Having trouble timing 20 seconds? Sing the birthday song twice. It will make hand washing fun and give you a better idea of when it's okay to rinse and dry their little hands.
Proper hand washing can cut down on germs tremendously. The Centers for Disease Control found that in some poor countries, frequent hand washing can cut the rates of pneumonia and diarrhea by half. Even if you can't get Junior to wash for the full 20 seconds before lunch, every little bit helps. O'Brien says washing for just ten seconds cuts about 90% of germs.
Another common germ fear is age; how young is too young to go out in public? "They're most vulnerable in those first two months," says O'Brien. She suggests using common sense. A walk with mom through the park is okay, but you may want to avoid crowded malls or airplanes where air is recycled throughout the flight.
Many new moms also worry that if they get sick their baby will too, especially if they're breast feeding. O'Brien says not to worry - most over-the-counter medications are okay, but be sure to talk with your doctor just in case. In fact, if you're sick, your baby may benefit. "Your body is producing antibodies to fight off the infections and those antibodies are passed along to your child while you breastfeed," says O'Brien. Your baby may not get sick at all, or they may not get as sick as you.
If you have more than one child, you may be worried that your older children will pass germs on to your infant. In this case, a little preventative care can go a long way. In addition to hand washing, encourage your older children to sneeze into their sleeve instead of their hands. Discourage cup and food sharing between older siblings and make sure they always wash their hands before holding the baby.
Even with the best precautions, though, illness can still crop up. If your child is school aged, you'll need to decide whether or not to keep them home. A good rule of thumb is that a child with a mild cold - sniffling, sneezing, coughing - can go to school. Anything worse, though, such as a fever, extreme lethargy or vomiting, warrants a child staying home. Remember, keeping a child home from school has two benefits: your child will get the rest they need to get better, and the children who are in school will remain well. Trust your instinct, but when in doubt, check with your doctor.
For more information on germs and sickness, as well as additional parenting advice, click here to visit www.AmericanBaby.com.
By Erin Petrun