How can I help my baby avoid infections?

Cartoon of high chair with toy monkey and cleaning spray on the top

Find out what you can do to help protect your baby against common infectious illnesses.

One of the best ways to avoid infections is to be prepared, especially if your baby is at high risk. Talk to staff on the neonatal unit before your baby is discharged and before the winter season begins in October. This will help you prepare and know what to expect.

There are things you can do to help protect your baby against the common infectious illnesses we talk about in this information:

1. Wash your hands thoroughly

Washing your hands often is really important in the fight against infections. Here is how you should wash your hands to best reduce this risk. When other people come into contact with your baby, ask them to wash their hands like this. Don’t worry about asking people to do this – those close to you will want to help to protect your baby too.

Adapted from NHS Clean Your Hands campaign, from NHS National Patient Safety Agency.

2. Use disposable tissues

Throwing away tissues helps to reduce the risk of infections on surfaces. Use a new tissue each time you need to wipe your baby’s nose or eyes, and do not use the same tissue on different parts of their face, to avoid infection spreading. Make sure those around your baby also catch their own sneezes and coughs in disposable tissues, and then throw them away.

3. Keep your baby’s environment clean

Clean toys, highchairs and worktops regularly, as germs can live for up to 48-hours on surfaces. Make sure any antibacterial cleaners are safe to use around children, and keep them far out of reach.

4. Avoid people who are unwell

It is not possible to prevent your baby from coming into contact with all infections. However, if your baby is at a higher risk, you should try to avoid contact with other adults and children with cold-like symptoms (such as a runny nose, sneezing or feeling generally unwell), or who have had a stomach upset. It might feel difficult sometimes, but asking someone to stay away from your baby if they are unwell isn’t being rude. You are helping to protect your baby’s health, and people will understand this.

5. Go smoke free

Smoking is bad for the health of the smoker and those around them. Babies and children are more vulnerable to the effects, and premature babies and those with fragile lungs can be seriously affected by cigarette smoke. Smoke from tobacco has been found to make the symptoms of many illnesses much worse for young babies. Even smoke on furniture, clothes, hair, and in the baby’s general environment will still have a negative impact on their health, even if you never smoke around your child.

If your baby is at a higher risk of infection, quitting smoking will really help to reduce their risk of becoming unwell and ease their symptoms. Quitting is not easy, but it could help to keep you and your baby healthy. If someone who regularly comes into contact with your baby smokes, ask them never to smoke around your baby.

For help quitting smoking, visit NHS Smoke Free.

6. Look, don’t touch

Babies often attract a lot of attention when you are out of the house. If someone asks or tries to touch your baby, but you are worried about their risk of infection, don’t be afraid to ask them to look instead. This will help to reduce the number of possible infections for your baby. Again, it is not rude to ask this. You could say something like, “Would you mind just having a look at her? She spent time in hospital, and so she is much more vulnerable to illnesses.”

If your baby is particularly at risk, it’s best to try to keep them away from crowds and public places between October and March. This is when most people have common infectious illnesses.