Adults get sick every day, but when infants fall ill, it can be scary and sometimes fatal. According to the National Association of County and City Health Officials, approximately 700,000 infants die each year due to infectious diseases. While it’s impossible to prevent the transmission of all infections, below are 8 easy strategies you can use to help keep you and your baby safe whether you’re in your final trimester or currently cradling your newborn.
1. Get An STI Test
Some sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) like syphilis don’t present with symptoms for long periods of time so a person can go months or years without treatment. If you’re pregnant or just had a baby, an untreated STI can cause a serious infection in your baby. Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, and genital herpes, can pass from the mother to the baby as the baby passes through the birth canal. HIV can cross the placenta during pregnancy and infect the baby during delivery. An STI infection in your baby can cause a number of problems such as low birth weight (less than 5 pounds), pneumonia, eye infection, brain damage, and deafness.
We highly recommend getting a full panel of STI tests and any necessary treatments. Some STIs can be treated with a pill or round of antibiotics. If you’re healthy, you can best care for your baby and keep them safe from life-threatening illnesses.
2. Maintain Good Hygiene
The Covid-19 pandemic changed a lot, including our commitment to hand washing. Even though Covid is more controlled than it was in 2020, other infectious diseases are still rampant. We encourage you to limit your risk of passing illnesses on to your infant by washing your hands often; be sure to use warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds to get those fingers and cuticles extra clean. It's especially important to wash your hands before and/or after certain activities like after using the bathroom, before handling food, and after blowing your nose. If soap and running water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel.
3. Avoid Wild Animals While Pregnant or While With Infants
Steer clear of wild or pet rodents, lizards, and turtles, and their droppings. Some rodents carry a harmful virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). Women who become infected with LCMV during pregnancy may pass the infection on to the fetus. Infections occurring during the first trimester may result in fetal death, while in the second and third trimesters, birth defects can develop. Infants infected in utero can have many serious and permanent birth defects, including vision problems and hydrocephaly (water on the brain). Pregnant women may recall a flu-like illness during pregnancy, or may not recall any illness.
Ensure a pest control professional is hired to get rid of pests in or around your home. If you have a pet rodent, like a hamster or guinea pig, have someone else watch it until after your baby is born.
4. Avoid People Who Are Sick
This may feel rude, but to help protect you and your infant, avoid people who are sick—this is especially true for infections like chickenpox or rubella. Chickenpox can cause birth defects; rubella can cause serious birth defects and put you at risk for miscarriage or stillbirth. It’s not always enough to wear a mask and social distance; if possible, work from home or cancel plans if there’s a virus going around in your circles.
5. When Pregnant, Avoid Virus-Carrying Insects
Use insect repellent as often as possible when you go outdoors, especially in the warmer months to protect yourself against insects known to carry diseases. Try to find Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. These ingredients help protect against contact with mosquitos that carry the Zika virus and ticks that carry Lyme disease. The former illness causes pregnancy defects when left untreated and Lyme disease causes pregnancy complications. In addition to insect repellent, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when walking outside.
6. Get Updated On Your Vaccines
Getting all your necessary vaccines is an easy way to help protect your kiddo from infection. Whether you’re pregnant or just gave birth, talk to your doctor about vaccinations you might need. For instance, the flu vaccine is especially important when you're pregnant.
The Tdap vaccine helps protect against whooping cough, and some vaccines, such as the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, should be given a month or more before pregnancy if a pregnant person didn’t get the vaccine as a child. According to the CDC, the COVID-19 vaccine is also recommended for pregnant people. The authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant people are the mRNA Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which contain no live virus.
7. Avoid Raw and Unpasteurized Milks
Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and foods made from it, including soft cheeses such as feta, brie, and queso fresco, unless they have labels that say they are made from pasteurized milk. There's a chance that unpasteurized or soft ripened dairy products contain Listeria bacteria which can cause an infection called listeriosis. Listeriosis can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth. Cooking cheese until it's steaming hot will kill off bacteria, reducing the risk of listeriosis.
8. Avoid Undercooked Meat
Cook your meat until it's well done. The juices should run clear and there should be no pink inside. Ground meat should be cooked to a minimum of 160°F (71° C). Cook poultry to at least 165° F (74°C). For other meat like beef and pork, cook it to a minimum of 145° F (63°C) and let it rest for several minutes after cooking. Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot. These undercooked meats and processed meats might contain harmful bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes.