Why is handwashing important when handling babies?

Why is handwashing important when handling babies?
María José Roldán

Written and verified by the psychopedagogue María José Roldán.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

A great number of newborn babies contract illnesses from adults because of lack of good hygiene on behalf of the people who handle babies. It seems trivial, but it’s anything but. A baby is a very fragile being. Any contracted illness, no matter how mild it might be for an adult, may become fatal for a newborn. In this light, no precaution should be overlooked, and handwashing is of the utmost importance.

The importance of handwashing

An act as simple as washing your hands before handling a baby can be life-saving. It’s a precaution that all adults should take before touching a baby. There are some truly serious illnesses that can be contagious. At the same time, there are ailments that are mild for adults, like gastroenteritis or a cold, that can be fatal for a new born baby.

During the first months of a baby’s life, it is especially important to keep hands clean all the time to avoid spreading any illness to little ones. Babies are very vulnerable and can easily become sick. With such weak immune systems, a quick and successful recovery can be very complicated, and often require immediate hospitalization.

hand washing with soap

How and when to wash your hands

You should wash your hands every time you want to pick the baby up. This is especially true before feeding or after diaper changes, or after touching your nose or mouth (for example, after sneezing or blowing your nose). Washing your hands conscientiously with soap and water is important to keep bacteria from spreading.

It may become tiring, but you should always tell others to do the same before interacting with your baby. Older siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and any other person that touches your baby during the first months of life should have clean hands. Furthermore, if someone is sick with any kind of virus or bacterial infection, they should wash their hands even more frequently. 

“The cure for a frightened baby is the mother’s soft touch”

-Author unknown-

However, if someone has a viral infection or some other viral illness, then rather than washing their hands, the most important thing to do is simply not touch the baby. The less possibilities of spreading illness to the baby, the better. If that means not going near the baby for several days while they are sick, then that’s what it takes. Better to be safe than sorry.

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or uncomfortable asking grandparents or other visitors not to touch your baby if their hands are dirty, they don’t have a way to wash their hands at the moment, or they have some virus.  They should be understanding, given that the health and well-being of your baby are at stake. Don’t feel bad. If you need to set limits so that your baby doesn’t get sick, then do so.

rubbing palm of hands together

We can all spread germs

Even if we’re not sick with a virus, we can all still spread germs. We spend the day touching things that have been touched by others, so we can’t be absolutely sure if our hands are totally clean or not. Therefore, washing them is the best bet for safeguarding the health of the newborn baby.

For those times when, for some reason, you don’t have access where you are to water and soap, it’s always a good idea to have a bottle of hand sanitizer in your bag. Sanitizer disinfects your hands without the need for soap and water and is a safe option, especially  when you are out and about and you run into someone who wants to touch your small baby.

As you can see, extreme precaution should be taken in order to protect your baby from other people’s germs. Keeping your hands very clean is essential, and everyone around you should keep that in mind if they want to touch your baby, pick her up, or even just caress her face. Babies are vulnerable and we must all work together to keep them safe.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.