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Germs: Friends or Foes?

Last week’s Mommy poll was all about the germ phobia: how long did you
wait until you let people hold your baby without washing their hands?

poll was somewhat evenly split; a few of you said you were on germ patrol
less than two weeks of your baby’s life, while the rest were vigilant
until somewhere between the time baby had her first shots and her first
birthday. No one confessed to going over the top and disinfecting your
child’s world with no end in sight.

I admit I struggle with
how much to protect Madeleine from germs; on the one hand, I want to keep
her from getting sick (partially for selfish reasons – if a baby’s sick
and doesn’t sleep, no one else sleeps either!). But on the other hand, I
acknowledge that I can’t keep her in a bubble her entire life; she’s going
to be exposed to germs at some point in her life. At least by the times
she gets to her college dorm.

So I teeter between hovering and wiping and disinfecting everything, and
letting her go ahead and lick that stranger’s pocket change. At work with
Maddie the other night, I had my boss hold her while I changed clothes
rather than have Madeleine crawl around on a somewhat public bathroom
floor. A few minutes later, though, Maddie was happily licking the workout
machinery, and I let her. Look, the machines supposedly get cleaned
between each use, and they definitely get cleaned every night, so it’s
probably safer for her to lick than my coffee table which gets cleaned,
say, once a year.

I am gradually starting to let Maddie play with
community toys in our church nursery (now that flu season’s past) but I
won’t let her put them in her mouth, and I clean her hands when we leave.
I use a shopping
cart liner
(see previous
) but that’s as much about cushion as it is about germs. I
don’t fanatically scrub our floors every day, but we make everyone take
shoes off in our house so it’s less of an issue, and I do vacuum/sweep/mop
about once a week. More in the kitchen since she spends so much time there.

living in New York seems to increase your odds of running into a really
rare humdinger of a disease. I have yet to take Madeleine on the subway;
partly because it’s about one hundred people breathing the same air over
and over on a 45-minute ride, and partly because the thought of carrying
her stroller up and down all those stairs exhausts me. I’m always excited
when winter comes and I have to wear gloves outside; it means I won’t be
touching the handrails that thousands of other phlegmy strangers have used
that day with my bare hands. So why would I want to give my daughter the
opportunity to lick those same rails? At the same time, if I needed to
take her on the subway daily, I just would, and I’d deal with it.

was an
article on CNN
recently featuring a woman who let her infant eat
finger foods off the floor of a clothing store, doctor’s office, and so
forth. The woman’s husband is a doctor and said he believed exposing your
child to germs early on would actually strengthen the immune system for
the long run. Considering their child wasn’t sick at all her first year of
life, they make a compelling argument. On the other side of the spectrum
is the mommy who hand-bleaches the grout in her kitchen daily, disinfects
every door handle before touching it, and so on: she also has remarkably
ailment-free kids. There are studies that show that children who have at
least one mild illness their first year of life are healthier in general,
and studies proving children who get through their first year illness-free
are less prone to some diseases like asthma or allergies.

right in all of this? Heck if I know. Madeleine’s been blessedly healthy
her whole life and I can’t say how much of it is due to our obsessive
hand-washing throughout the day, and how much of it’s due to it just being
the way she is. She’s 10 ½ months now, and I’m guessing a few colds and
such won’t hurt her and may in the long run help her.

But can
you blame me if I want to put it off as long as possible?


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