This piece was originally published in Berkshire Family Focus as a part of my “Reflections of a First Time Dad” column. In light of the flu epidemic packing emergency rooms across the country, I decided to reprint this on my personal blog. Enjoy and wash your hands…
If you want to hold the baby, wash your hands. It’s one simple rule of which my wife is an absolute stickler – and as a good parental teammate – a rule I’ve gotta help enforce.
Now, as you can imagine this can lead to a few awkward moments with family and friends. First, some people find it offensive with the suggestion that their hands aren’t clean, or more commonly, they take offense because they aren’t up-to-date on the best practices of handling an infant. Yes, the nurses say that’s the way it’s got to be, which is great reinforcement for the germ-killing dictum. The other great part is that Mama Bear always lays down the law, and I typically just get to say “hey, she’s the boss” and kindly but firmly say with a smile, “sure, you can hold the baby, just wash your hands first.”
To be clear, I’m not the cleanest guy around. I tend to take too long before bleaching the master bathroom. Occasionally the laundry piles up higher than it should and disorganization often rules the day in my home office.
But, on the uncompromising hand-washing rule, we have more than clinical support – it’s just common sense. At this most wonderful time of year, we all encounter endless arrays of finger food and handshaking and kissing and festive indoor social gatherings – all-in-all – it’s a venerable petri dish.
And that reminds me of rule No. 2: No Kissing (except for Mommy and Daddy).
Mama Bear doesn’t care if you’re running for the president of the United States or if you’re her closest uncle – kissing the baby is a no-go. This is the rule that relatives seem to rebel against the most. After all, how irresistible is it to lay a big smooch on those smiling chubby cheeks? The big problem here is that kissing (particularly on the mouth) can lead to serious dental decay and cavities as soon as teeth begin to form in young children. So, the cheek is way too close to the mouth for comfort. In fact, you can bet anything that finds it’s way on the little one’s cheek and hands can (and usually will) find its way into the baby’s mouth.
Again, I’m surely not a clean freak and do believe that my child will ultimately need to be exposed to germs to build up a healthy immunity. In fact, he’s coming into contact with germs and bacteria every day – but those germs shouldn’t include Aunt Matilda’s cold, Cousin Bobby’s flu or Step-Sister Sally’s Streptococcus mutans (look it up).
And anyway, washing your hands and not slobbering your saliva on others not only shows consideration for the health of a 13-week old baby – it’s also pretty good advice for the health of everyone this holiday season.
Since contracting a nasty strain of the flu a few years ago, I have become a convert to the reduced flesh-pressing greeting customs. While I still don’t trade an elbow bump in favor of a handshake, you won’t see me kissing any ladies this holiday season (I’m sure no one will be offended). A simple hug will suffice.