Why You Shouldn't Put a Face Mask on a Baby

The CDC now recommends wearing cloth face masks in public, but the guidance doesn't extend to children under age 2. Here's why face masks can be dangerous for your infant.

Mother with protective mask holding baby
Photo: Nastasic/Getty Images

As the coronavirus spreads across America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the use of cloth face masks. Specifically, masks should be worn “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission,” like grocery stores and pharmacies, according to the organization.

But before you place a protective barrier on your little one, take note: The CDC says masks shouldn’t be worn on children under age 2. Here’s why you shouldn't put a face mask on a baby, and how you can properly protect your little one from COVID-19 transmission.

Preventing COVID-19 With Face Masks

The coronavirus partly spreads through contaminated droplets, which can travel six feet after someone coughs or sneezes. The respiratory illness may also spread through airborne transmission via talking and breathing. Masks can prevent the coronavirus in two ways, according to Michael Hall, M.D., a CDC vaccine provider:

  1. They block the virus from entering the nose and mouth, which is a main route of infection.
  2. They prevent respiratory droplets from spreading between sick and healthy individuals. This is especially important because people can spread the disease without showing any symptoms.

Note, however, that the CDC only recommends the use of cloth masks. N-95 respirator masks are the most effective, but they should be reserved for health care workers at this time.

Why Shouldn’t Babies Wear Face Masks?

Despite the benefits of face masks, the CDC says children younger than 2 shouldn't wear them. Here’s why: Babies have smaller airways by nature, and masks make inhaling and exhaling more difficult. You might never know that your infant is struggling to breath because she doesn’t have the ability to tell you. Babies also aren’t strong enough to adjust or remove the masks themselves, which could lead to suffocation.

Masks are also less effective when worn improperly, says Rosemary Olivero, M.D., division chief of infectious disease at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Young toddlers aren’t accustomed to wearing something on the face, so they’ll probably touch the mask often. Germs can seep through the edges and enter their eyes, nose, or mouth— which overrides the benefits of using a mask in the first place.

How to Protect Babies From the Coronavirus

Although a handful of infants have died from COVID-19 in America, the disease generally doesn’t impact babies and children as severely. Younger people tend to experience mild cold-like symptoms, such as cough, fever, and runny nose, according to the CDC. Even so, parents should diligently protect themselves and their baby from the coronavirus. Here are some prevention tactics.

  • Wear your baby in a carrier, and face him towards your body.
  • Put a blanket over your baby’s car seat (but never over the baby himself) to limit exposure. You can also use a breathable stroller cover.
  • Practice social distancing. Stay at least six feet away from others and avoid crowded areas.
  • The coronavirus can last for hours or days on surfaces, so take steps to avoid potential contamination in public. For example, you can wipe grocery cart handles with a disinfecting wipe.
  • Regularly wash your hands (and your toddler’s hands) for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. You can also use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol volume. Washing your hands is especially important before handling your baby.
  • Encourage toddlers not to touch their faces.
  • Disinfect high-surface areas of your home, such as countertops and light switches. Check out this article for more information on what to sanitize in your home.
  • The CDC recommends laundering washable plush toys and other items as needed, using the “warmest appropriate water setting.” You should let the items dry completely.
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