It's easy to become obsessive about germs these days. No parent wants to see her little one get sick, and there are nearly 1,000 antibacterial products on store shelves that feed our fears.
But experts say you're better off dialing down your vigilance?and saving your money. Antimicrobial soaps don't kill viruses, which cause the overwhelming majority of childhood illnesses. In fact, germs (in moderation) are actually a good thing. Some bacteria help your child's digestion, and others shield her skin from infection-causing invaders. And while a cold can certainly make your child miserable, it also helps her young immune system mature into an efficient germ-fighting machine.
"It's beneficial for children to get sick a few times a year," says Alan Greene, M.D., a pediatrician at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, in Palo Alto, California. "Their bodies need to learn how to fend off infections."
The bottom line: Healthy hygiene doesn't need to be costly, complicated, or time-consuming. Common sense should be your guide. Here's how to reduce your child's risk of getting sick?without overdoing it.Protect Your Baby
Take extra precautions with your newborn, since a minor illness could easily turn into something serious (and may be difficult to treat with certain medications). Babies also become more vulnerable to infections during the second half of their first year, when the antibodies passed on in the womb fade.Commonsense Checklist
- Let them look (but not touch). Limit the number of people who handle your newborn. Make sure anyone who wants to hold her does a thorough hand-cleaning first. And keep your baby away from anyone who has even a minor illness.
- Wipe her bottom carefully. During diaper changes, wipe from front to back (especially with girls) to avoid urinary-tract infections. Warm water and cotton balls or tissues work well and are gentle on the skin. Wash your hands afterward so you don't spread germs.
- Clean dropped Binkies. If a pacifier hits the ground at home, a quick warm-water rinse is sufficient. But when it falls in a public place, scrub it with soap and water. Also clean Binkies in the dishwasher regularly, and check crevices for grime. When you see signs of wear (such as a rough surface, tatters, or discoloration) on a pacifier, throw it out.
- Fight baby-food germs. Don't feed your baby straight from the jar, as germs from his mouth or a spoon can multiply and make him sick. Instead, pour what you need for a meal into a bowl and recap and refrigerate the jar.
- Don't over-bathe. Frequent soaks can dry out an infant's sensitive skin. A bath every other day is enough.
- Keep on breastfeeding. While a newborn's natural immunities fade after about six months, breastfeeding for a full year will continue to boost your baby's resistance to infection and disease.
- Monitor your doctor's hygiene. At a checkup, don't be afraid to ask your pediatrician or nurse whether she washed her hands before she came into the room, says Jeffrey Starke, M.D., medical director for infection control at Texas Children's Hospital, in Houston.
- Stop smoking. Secondhand smoke damages the tiny hairs that line a baby's mucous membranes. This allows more germs to enter the body?and causes an estimated 2 million ear infections in little ones each year.