There are few things more exciting for parents, grandparents, family, and friends than welcoming a new baby into the world. But, we all have to be mindful about our early visits with the parents and newborn.
Dr. Marcia VanVleet, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, UMass Medical School – Baystate and Lead Newborn Hospitalist, The Birthplace at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, says it’s critical to keep the baby safe from infection and illness during the first few months of their life.
“Everyone wants to meet the new baby,” she acknowledges, “but parents and others have to think about what’s best for their baby and the new family.”
How long should you wait before letting people meet your newborn?
Dr. VanVleet explains there are no “universal rules” for when to visit or what to do around a newborn – it is really up to the parents – but precautions should be taken especially during the winter season like this year when the flu, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus,) and COVID-19 are all prevalent. Care and caution need to be on everyone’s mind.
Dr. VanVleet says it is a good idea for parents to choose who will visit the baby early on and who won’t. She says it might make sense to hold off on some visits until the baby is about 3 months (12 weeks) old to allow the baby to build up their immunities. It’s all up to the parents, though, in the end.
“If the person or people who come to your home to visit are going to help, that might outweigh the risk of exposing baby to potential illness,” she says. “If not, parents might want to hold off on the visit until baby is about 3 months old.”
She recommends while the parents are in the hospital visitation should possibly be limited – and maybe no visitors at all – so that parents and baby can get some much-needed rest and bonding time. “Parents are getting to know their newborn,” she explains. “They are establishing a feeding schedule and asking lots of questions. They shouldn’t have people coming into the hospital where they feel like they need to entertain them.”
Dr. VanVleet recommends the baby live in an imaginary health or safety “cocoon” until the age of 3 months.
“They’ve never been sick, never been exposed to illnesses, and as adults, we have to be careful and not come around them if we’re feeling even a little off. Babies can’t get a flu shot until they are 6 months old, and while they are carrying some of their mother’s immunities, it’s better not to take the chance.”
Rules for Visiting a Newborn
While there aren’t universal rules for meeting a newborn, the dos and don’ts below can help visitors protect the new baby and not be a burden to the new parents.
What to do when meeting a newborn baby
- Visit by invitation only
- Call ahead to make sure your visit is still welcome
- Wash your hands often before and during the visit
- Wait at least two weeks before visiting if you have been exposed to a contagious illness
- Make sure you are up to date on vaccines like COVID-19, flu and pertussis (whooping cough, a highly contagious respiratory tract infection)
- Potentially mask around the newborn, especially if you have been potentially exposed to illness
- Know when to leave by recognizing cues from parents and/or baby
- Help if you can: bring a meal, walk the dog, help clean or pick up the home
What not to do when meeting a newborn baby
- Don’t show up unannounced
- Never visit a newborn if you are not feeling well, and wait a week until you’ve recovered
- Do not kiss the newborn on the face – try to avoid kissing them at all
- Don’t bring other children into the newborn’s home
- Don’t disrespect parents’ wishes
- Don’t make more work for parents
“And just remember, a mild cough from RSV or pertussis in an adult can be serious and even deadly in a newborn, so don’t visit if you’re not feeling well,” Dr. VanVleet says.
When is it safe to have visitors?
Dr. VanVleet says it is safe to have a visitor when the parents are comfortable with it.
“Sometimes, even though it would be good to wait a few weeks before a lot of visitors start arriving, you just can’t avoid it for one reason or another,” she says. “In those cases, parents should use their own judgment and do what makes them comfortable. As long as visitors follow precautions, it should be fine.”
When should family visit a newborn?
If family is going to help the parents - either with siblings or the newborn or household chores - the benefits might outweigh the risks, according to Dr. VanVleet. As long as no one visits after an exposure to a contagious illness or while in the midst of a cold or illness themselves, the help they can provide to parents might well outweigh the risks. Parents are tired and need the help in the early days and weeks. Even family members, though, should ask or wait for an invitation.
“Parents have to follow their gut – if someone makes them uncomfortable, then they shouldn’t come around until baby is a little older (3 months),” Dr. VanVleet says.
What about siblings?
You’re not going to keep siblings away from their new brother or sister, so families have to be as vigilant as possible, according to Dr. VanVleet.
“Keep sick siblings away from the baby whenever possible,” she says. “Remind them to wash their hands often, and tell them if they feel the urge to kiss the newborn, it should be on the toes, not the hands or the face. In the end, there’s only so much you can do about siblings being around the newborn. As a family we share the good and the bad.”
How do you say “no” to visitors to a newborn?
It is best for parents to let visitors know what is expected and not expected before they even arrive. It can be done nicely by parents simply telling them how long a visit they are up for, when they expect in terms of masking, when they’d like them to arrive, and whether they would like them to stay away if they are not feeling well, Dr. VanVleet says. It is all up to the parents, including whether to allow visitors at all.
“This is a wonderful time for everyone,” Dr. VanVleet says. “As long as everyone is careful, it will continue to be a wonderful time as baby grows.”