We are also frequently asked when your baby can safely join the crowd, be around lots of people.
There are 4 answers to that question, the 3 that relate to your baby are all good news. The only bad news answer has to do with limits of the medical profession.
Here are the 3 good news items:
- Newborns are not likely to catch colds in public. At birth your newborn is fully loaded with all of Mother’s antibodies. That means your newborn cannot catch any of the illnesses their Mother has had and is immune to. Any cold the Mother has had cannot be caught by the newborn for about 4-6 months.
- If they do catch a cold they handle it as well as grown-ups. Newborns are ready to go when it comes to fighting off common viruses. As noted, they are not very likely to catch colds, but if they do, they do fine with them.
- Out in public, the illnesses most likely to be caught are mild viral illnesses. The contagious illnesses out there are almost all mild colds and stomach flus. The one exception is whooping cough, or pertussis, but now that all parents and so many other adults are getting the TDaP vaccine, few adults have this illness now.
If that was all there was to say, we would say, enjoy the crowds. Your newborn can handle colds and flus, they are unlikely to catch them, and out in public that’s all they are likely to catch. But there is one more item, and it has to do with Group B Strep (GBS).
- Medical technology cannot tell the difference between a minor cold and a major GBS infection. During pregnancy, there is a very interesting truce called between baby and Mother . The baby agrees not to attack the Mother’s body, and the Mother agrees not to attack the baby’s body. Well after birth, a skin graft from one would be soundly destroyed by the other. But during pregnancy, both immune systems lay down their arms and allow the other to co-exist in peace. One germ takes sly advantage of this truce, and it’s the GBS. GBS has learned how to evade immune defenses by hiding in the baby-maternal truce. That truce lasts a few weeks past birth, then ends, so GBS infections do not occur in babies or mothers by one month of age. But, GBS infections in the newborn can be very serious, so if your newborn gets a fever in the first weeks of life, it is urgent to tell if it is the dangerous GBS infection, or just a cold. Now, here comes our limitation. Despite decades of research, no technology has been proven to work to tell if a fever is from a virus or GBS in less than two days. Even though we are deep into the 21st century, the only way to tell is to take some blood, put it into a broth, park it in a warm incubator, and wait two days to see if it gets cloudy. Very low-tech, and it takes two days. During those two days, we need to treat the baby for a possible infection with GBS until the culture comes back negative, which it almost always does. Also note that GBS is caught during delivery, not out and about.
Putting all that together, it is safe for newborns to be in public, around lots of people, they cannot catch GBS from the public. But to avoid developing a fever in the first weeks of life, and activating the GBS worry and all its attendant testing and treatments for two days, we recommend avoiding crowds for one month.