Should You Let People Kiss Your Baby?
Babies come out with tiny rosebud lips that look like they are just waiting to be kissed. In fact, an infant face feels like an invitation to smooch. While affection is absolutely essential for the proper development of children, parents need to rethink letting just anyone kiss their children. In fact, they may want to rethink letting anyone kiss the baby on the mouth.
Parents are obviously going to resist strangers from off the street trying to kiss their babies, but the threat may lurk closer to home. Visitors, like family members and close friends, may feel that kissing a baby is just a way to show affection. Unfortunately, it can also be a way to spread germs that can prove fatal for infants. And this is completely 100% avoidable.
Even parents can carry germs that can be dangerous for a baby, and our kisses also have the potential to cause cavities and encourage other siblings to mimic our behavior. There are plenty of ways to let our babies know we love them, but one of the best ways to support the health of our children may be to have a no-kissing policy.
This may sound extreme, and many parents may just make it a no-kissing-baby-on-the-lips policy. However, it’s important to put some rules and guidelines in place because the following problems on this list are real. Though we would never intentionally hurt our children, not knowing what the saliva coming from other people can do to them means we may inadvertently cause them harm.
The warning may sound harsh—babies are highly smoochable creatures—but is echoed by medical professionals.
Newborns have immature immune systems, so viruses and bacteria that cause mild illnesses in children and adults can cause severe illnesses in their tiny, vulnerable bodies.
About 70 percent of all American adults are infected with HSV-1 and may carry the virus in their saliva at any time during their lifetime, even if they don’t have symptoms.
While meningitis caused by bacteria or herpes is rare, occurring in less than 1 out of 1,000 live births, a kiss on a baby’s mouth, or possibly anywhere on the skin, can be extremely dangerous.
Dr. Karin Nielsen is a clinical professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
She said infants are particularly vulnerable to HSV-1, which can cause cold sores.
“In the specific situation of herpes simplex virus or HSV. Some people may have cold sores around their lips, or just start manifesting them. Kissing can transmit the virus to others, particularly to infants, who are more susceptible as they have no prior immunity,” Nielsen told Healthline.
“If someone with active HSV infection … kisses a baby, there is indeed a significant risk, especially during the newborn period,” she added.
Dr. Dean Blumberg is the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California Davis Children’s Hospital.
He said parents need to be particularly vigilant when their babies are still only a few months old.
“The immune system becomes stronger and matures with age,” Blumberg told Healthline. “Children are particularly vulnerable to severe infections in the first month of life. And may have particularly serious infections in the first three months of life with few symptoms except for fever.”
Viral meningitis is just one of the illnesses that can prove fatal to newborns.
Nielsen said that before children are immunized, they can catch any illnesses that are preventable by vaccines.
“They may have seizures [repetitive movements], they will be listless, lethargic, or cry nonstop in the beginning,” she said. “They may have moments in which they stop breathing, change color, or look limp. However, they do not need to have all these symptoms together, one symptom alone is enough cause for investigation.”
Blumberg conceded that many new parents will struggle to keep well-meaning visitors to a minimum.
“This is a difficult issue because there are many family and cultural expectations that need to be balanced by limiting exposure to possible infections. I do not recommend limiting to any specific number of visitors. Instead, make sure that all visitors are immunized and healthy.” he said.
Blumberg also advised that parents should keep an eye out for particular symptoms in babies that could indicate serious illness.
“Any fever in the first month of life could indicate a serious infection,” he said. “See your healthcare provider if the rectal temperature is 100.4°F [38°C] or greater. Other concerning signs or symptoms include:
- any difficulty breathing,
- poor feeding that leads to weight loss,
- decreased urination
- possible dehydration,
- and development of a rash without a known cause,” he said.
“Infants with serious infections will stop eating, will not wake up, or may become extremely irritable,” Nielsen added.
This isn’t a permanent moratorium against kisses, of course. Once a baby has been vaccinated and has a chance to build up their immune system, germ protection protocol is a bit more flexible. I mean, within a few months, the baby will be licking the kitchen floor as he crawls across it.
As a toddler, she might smear poop on the walls and splash around in the toilet. Before long, we find our kids are sucking on a half-eaten lollipop they found in the couch cushions. We throw our hands up and look the other way even if we’re throwing up in our mouth a little bit. With a little time, you can give all the snuggles and smooches you want (respecting a kid’s body autonomy, of course).
Here are some guidelines for parents with a newborn:
- Everyone should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching the baby.
- Don’t let anyone kiss the baby until he or she is six weeks old—by that point, a baby’s immune system should be strong enough that the risk of a life-threatening infection from a virus like herpes is nearly negligible.
- Only let those who feel 100 percent healthy visit your baby (anyone with “a little sore throat” should come back at another time).
- Watch for any signs of HSV infections in newborns, including: sores on the mouth, tongue, gums, lips, or throat. Along with aches, fever, trouble breathing, swollen lymph nodes, or lethargy. If you notice symptoms, contact your medical provider immediately.
Soon he’ll be ready for these kinds of adventures, but you’ll need to be a little patient first.