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Protecting NICU Babies from Bacterial Infections

June 21, 2023

The immune system of newborn babies is not as developed as adults. This means more precaution is needed to protect them from infections. However, premature babies are at a much higher risk of infection since their immune system is even less developed than full-term newborns!

In the NICU (Neonatal intensive care unit), babies are also more likely to need a lot of blood tests & treatments such as breathing tubes, blood tests, blood transfusions, among others. These invasive treatments & tests further increase the risk of infection in NICU babies.

However, that’s not to say that you can’t do anything to protect your little one from bacterial infections. By following the right approach & taking precautionary measures can ensure your NICU baby remains protected from infections.

7 Ways to Protect NICU Babies from Bacterial Infections

Let’s look at seven ways that can help NICU babies from bacterial infections:

1. Hand Hygiene

One of the best ways to stop bacterial transmission is to wash your hands thoroughly before coming into contact with the baby. This applies to everyone, including parents, visitors, and even healthcare providers.

You may hesitate to ask people about washing their hands but think about it this way. People close to you will also want to protect the baby & thus will have no problem practicing good hand hygiene.

The hands can be washed with soap and water or hand sanitizer containing 60% alcohol.

2. Quit Smoking

There’s no doubt that smoking is bad for your health, but did you know second-hand smoke or passive smoking can sometimes be even way worse than first-hand smoke? Yes, you heard that right!

According to research, second-hand smoke can harm a baby’s heart rate, breathing, & even affect their growth. In some cases, it also increases the risk of SUDI (sudden unexpected death in infancy).

So if you have a habit of smoking, then it is high time to say goodbye to it for good! This will be beneficial for your newborns and even your own health.

Similarly, anyone who smokes and is in regular contact with the baby should also not smoke around the baby.

And while we are discussing smoke from cigarettes, let’s not forget that any type of smoke is not good for the NICU baby. This includes smoke from clothes, furniture, hair, & even vehicles!

3. Limited Visitation

As hard as it sounds, another tip to protect the NICU baby from bacterial infection is to implement a limited visitation policy. This can be used when the baby is at the NICU or even when they have arrived home. I know it’s a hard time if you have your little one in the NICU, but it is critical to make all the sacrifices you can possibly make in order to protect your baby.

The visitation can be restricted to the most essential individuals only, such as healthcare staff, parents, or caregivers. Doing so will decrease the chances of your newborn baby contracting an infectious disease from other people.

Now, doing so may be hard for some parents as everyone they know would want to see the baby. A good way to solve this issue is to send them photos/videos of the baby. Similarly, you can also show the baby to your friends & family through video call!

4. Use Disposable Tissues

Always use a new disposable tissue to wipe the baby’s eyes or nose and then throw it away. In addition, remember not to use the same tissue again on the baby’s face as it significantly increases the chances of infection.

Similarly, anyone around the NICU baby should catch their coughs and sneezes in the disposable tissues as well. Once they are done, they should properly dispose of the tissue & then wash their hands.

5. Avoid Sick People

Of course, this goes without saying it. Babies attract a lot of attention, and it isn’t a bad thing at all. However, babies with a higher risk shouldn’t come into contact with others who have cold-like symptoms or are unwell.

Similarly, anyone with a viral/bacterial infection or any other health condition that can be transmitted to the baby should also not come into contact with the baby.

So if any child or adult has flu-like symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, or cough, politely ask them not to get close to the baby.

For some parents, this will feel difficult, but you need to remember that it isn’t rude. After all, you are doing this to protect your newborn baby, and those around you will completely understand this.

6. Breast Milk Handling

To ensure the well-being of NICU babies & to minimize the risk of infections, it is essential to follow proper guidelines for handling breast milk.

This involves ensuring the safe handling and storage of breast milk to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination. The best way to achieve this is to encourage mothers to always wash their hands during the expression process.

In addition, any equipment, such as breast pumps that are used for expressing milk, should be properly sterilized and cleaned as well.

For storing the breast milk, properly cleaned & sterilized containers should be used that are specifically made for this purpose only.

Each container should also be labeled with the exact date/time of expression. Similarly, the containers should be properly stored in a temperature controlled environment, such as a refrigerator, to minimize the risk of bacterial growth.

7. Avoid Touching the Baby

Again, I know it’s super hard, but NICU babies require special care as they have a higher chance of contracting infections even when they graduate from NICU to their home.

That’s why it is usually best to ask people to only look at the baby instead of touching it. This will limit the number of possible infections since physical contact is also one of the top ways for bacteria/viruses to move around.

Once again, it is important to remember that it is not rude to remind people that they can look at the baby instead of touching it.

To make it easy, you can explain the situation to others so they would be more willing to accommodate your baby’s health.

If your NICU baby is at a higher risk, then it is usually best to avoid crowded places as well. Especially during October – March (6 months), many people struggle with common infections that could endanger the baby’s health!

Avoid Any Potential Infection in the NICU

It is important to take special care to ensure that NICU babies are protected from bacterial and viral infections. And the best way to achieve this is to implement the above mentioned strategies.

Taking small steps such as practicing good hand hygiene, avoiding crowded places, & limiting visitation can make a positive difference to the baby’s health & even protect them from possible infections.

It is also essential to take your friends, family, & other close people on board to ensure they are all on the same page & are working towards giving the utmost care to the NICU baby!