Housework seems to be a battle that I’m constantly losing. If I actually find the time to clean between working, playing and running back and forth to various events and lessons, my kids/dog/husband are wrecking one room while I’m scrubbing down another, so I can never get the entire house completely clean. It’s very frustrating, as I’m sure most moms can attest.
So this raised a question in our office—how clean do you really have to be? Is a newborn at risk if he lives in a slightly less-than-sterile environment? After doing some research, we were happy to hear that babies who come home to crazy, busy houses are likely to turn out just as healthy as their super-clean-housed neighbors. Here’s what you need to know to make sure that your kids are healthy and safe in their environment—and if, like me, you’re a little domestically challenged, you’ll probably be pleased with the news.
The good news
Turns out you don’t have to be a perfect housekeeper to have healthy kids. Which is good to know, since children have the uncanny knack of finding the dirtiest spot to play or the most disgusting thing to put in their mouth. There is some evidence that shows that exposure to germs may play a useful role in building your child’s immune system—the more germs he is exposed to, the more natural immunities he’ll build up. So while he might have more colds as a baby, he’ll likely be healthier in the long run.
What’s really important
There’s no need to panic if your baby catches a cold, but you don’t want him to get sick either. Ari Brown, MD, pediatrician and co-author of Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Baby’s First Year, advises that you ask well-wishers who are feeling poorly to save their visit until they’re well. Small babies are more susceptible to infection due to their immature immune systems, so you should be especially vigilant for the first six to eight weeks of your baby’s life.
It’s also wise to practice frequent hand washing, especially after bathroom visits or diaper changes or after handling uncooked food. (And no, it’s not rude to ask people to wash their hands before holding your newborn, as long as you do so politely.)
The kitchen is one place where you need to play it extra safe. (Here’s a scary number: the average dishcloth can contain as many as 4 billion living germs!) “Keep bottles and pacifiers off the kitchen counter where food is being prepared,” Dr. Brown recommends. Since kitchen floors tend to get a little germy as well, sweeping up at the end of the day and mopping occasionally should keep it clean enough for contact. Bathrooms are another germ-grabber, so try to keep yours clean by scrubbing with a strong cleanser once a week.
What’s less important
I gave up trying to prevent my children from eating off the floor a long time ago. (I don’t let them have their meals right there on the hardwood, but if they drop a grape and then pop it in their mouths, I don’t panic.) Do beware of food that has previously been chewed, falls into a wet spot or is dropped outside. However, there will probably come a day when your child will eat dirt or something equally disgusting, so you shouldn’t be overly worried. Contact with animals is also not a huge concern, as long as they are healthy, domesticated animals.
The big picture
“Some parents go overboard when they have a newborn in the house,” says Dr. Brown. “It’s a good idea to be aware and clean, but don’t go crazy.” She recommends periodically cleaning all surfaces in the home with standard cleaning products that contain bleach. “Think about phones, computers, doorknobs—all those things that you frequently touch but might forget about when you’re cleaning.”
The bottom line: Don’t be lazy, but don’t overdo it either. As long as you use common sense and practice good basic hygiene, your baby is going to be just fine, even if you’re not winning any Good Housekeeping awards.