Dr. Greene

Protecting Your Baby During Cold & Flu Season

Cold and flu season is once again upon us - are you prepared? As a pediatrician, I have a front row seat to contagious diseases. I’m exposed to every cold and flu virus in every daycare center in our community. Sneezed on, slobbered on – I even wind up examining poopy diapers that parents bring in for my educated opinion.

I am often asked how I manage to avoid so many of the colds, flus, and diarrheal illnesses that sweep through town. Part of the answer is that, over the years, my immune system has met many of these microscopic invaders, learned about them, and now stands ready with antibodies to prevent infection. This has happened over time, often with no conscious help from me.

But, I also take many precautions to prevent illness - basic steps that are helpful year-round for good health. First of all, keep your immune system strong by getting good nutrition, plenty of good sleep (a tough one for me), plenty of activity (a brisk walk by the waterfront is my favorite break), and lots of love and laughter.

Whatever shape your immune system is in, it’s also important to minimize the overwhelming numbers of disease-causing germs you are exposed to. There are four key ways to do this: reducing the amount of airborne germs by covering mouths when coughing and sneezing; avoiding antibiotic soaps (except for medical situations) to prevent super-germs; washing hands often; and decreasing the disease-causing germs on surfaces in the home – including your baby’s toys, gear, and other surfaces baby will touch or mouth.

Here are some tips for disinfecting your essentials:
  • How to disinfect bottles, breast pumps, and feeding gear. In general, you should take everything apart and either wash in the dishwasher, boil them in water for ten minutes, or hand wash and microwave for 90 seconds. (Refer to manufacturer guidelines for recommendations.)
  • How to disinfect high chairs, strollers, cribs, and other large items. Hard plastic surfaces can be wiped down with disinfecting wipes or a DIY disinfecting spray. I like the active ingredient Thymol, made from thyme oil, it’s very effective and safe. Another is vinegar, which kills many germs and bacteria, and is a non-toxic way to clean surfaces. The smell dissipates quickly and is a small price to pay for disinfecting without toxic chemicals.
When you’re doing laundry, toss in cushion covers, stroller liners, and bedding. In general, I prefer cold-water wash to save energy, but if someone in the home is sick, using warmer water can be helpful.
  • How to disinfect toys and teethers. For hard toys and teethers, use the same tips as above. Be sure to rinse teethers after disinfecting, even with non-toxic cleaners. The bitter or sour taste left behind could discourage baby from using teethers when needed.To make things easier, try to store soft or plush items until the risk of viruses subsides. If that’s not an option, use these tips for cleaning toys without toxic chemicals.
Remember, a healthy home doesn't need to be completely free of germs and bacteria. Do what you can to reduce the presence of harmful viruses and bacteria, but know that the illnesses your child still ends up catching are nature’s way of strengthening her immune system. 

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Dr. Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing pediatrician, author, speaker, children’s health advocate, and father of four.

Dr. Levine

Dr. Alanna Levine is a New York based pediatrician and a mom of two children.