By Dr Suresh Gowda, Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospitals, HRBR, Bangalore
Parenthood is indeed a blissful experience, but it comes with some responsibilities and new parents do experience anxious moments. The entry of a new-born is a turning point for all parents; however, the anxiety levels have increased many folds considering the pandemic situation.
Parents must adopt to a completely new role of taking care of the new-born, who is still very delicate and prone to diseases as their immune system is weak and needs time to develop. With the world battling a pandemic, neonatal care has become challenging. Mothers, fathers, or any other person who is dealing with infants needs to be aware of all the precautionary measures to be followed at these tough times.
What we know about the virus affecting newborns
The cases of COVID-19 in babies are very rare, but it is true that infants below 1 year are at a higher risk of getting severely ill with the disease if they are infected. Recent studies suggest that vertical transmission (the foetus being infected if the mother is positive) is indeed possible, but again there is a lack of solid evidence in this matter. If such cases occur, they would be a rare phenomenon.
Newborns can be infected with the disease during delivery or if they are exposed to a COVID positive caregiver. The cases of infection in infants and children in general is less frequent and less severe. However, they can still be carriers, hence it is better to look be watchful and take adequate precautions.
Tips for newborn care amidst the pandemic
Breastfeeding: The World Health Organisation has reported that there is still no evidence of the virus being transmitted through breast milk. In fact, WHO recommends that mothers with suspected or confirmed infection should initiate and continue to breastfeed their babies as the benefits of breastfeeding outweighs the risk of transmission.
Mothers who choose to breastfeed should take all necessary precautions like wearing masks and follow extremely proper hand hygiene. If the mother is COVID positive, use of a breast pump is recommended. It goes without saying that parts of the pump should be regularly and properly sanitised.
Vaccinations: It may be tempting to postpone the scheduled vaccinations during these times of frequent lockdowns to protect yourself and your baby from the risk of infection, but remember there are numerous other diseases out there that can affect your baby. The best defence against preventable diseases is vaccination. If you are still hesitant, have a discussion with your child’s paediatrician about the social distancing measures that are being followed at the hospital to reassure yourself.
Physical distancing: Keep the number of visitors at your home to a bare minimum. Do not let others hold your baby. It is better to postpone social events like naming ceremonies or perform them in a with limited gathering and let others watch virtually. It will be tough to refuse people, especially someone like a grandparent or a close relative, but these are the times we have to be extremely cautious and take the necessary decisions. Whenever you take your baby out, say for hospital visits, make sure to stay atleast six feet away from others
Meticulous hand and respiratory hygiene: Every caregiver of the baby must follow proper hand and respiratory hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, especially before you hold the baby. Wear a mask whenever you are within six feet of the child. Always sneeze into a tissue and wash your hands after. Remember it is always the caregiver and people around the child who should wear a mask. Never put a mask on your baby as this may make the baby uneasy. They have very small airways so breathing through a mask will be difficult for them and there is a risk of suffocation.
Maternal physical and mental health: A mother’s health is equally important for the development of the baby. During the times of this pandemic, it is seen that expectant mothers and new mothers are experiencing more stress and anxiety than ever. Cases of Postpartum depression too are on the rise. It is highly important that mothers take care of themselves. They should communicate their problems whether physical or mental with their doctors, have regular consultations with them. Take the support of your partners and loved ones during these unprecedented days.
What if you develop symptoms?
In case the mother or father develop symptoms that could indicate a possible Covid infection, the immediate step is isolation. Stay away from others especially your baby and get yourself tested. If your tests come back as positive, there is no need to panic. Your doctors will be able to guide you and your family through it. They will also provide guidance and individualized plan for the feeding and caring of your new-born.
Times may be tough but with proper care, you can keep your baby healthy and happy. Do not worry about isolating your baby. For a new-born, interaction with parents is quite sufficient for development. This pandemic has made us realise the importance of health and hygiene, which is crucial. Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise that these children are being born in a world where hand-washing and physical distancing are given such priority. Following these habits regularly will certainly make this planet a better place for babies.