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Keeping Baby Hale and Hearty

Keeping Baby Hale and Hearty
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WebMD Feature

Lydia Hurlbut admits she was a bit nuts the first six weeks after bringing home her new baby, Kyra. She wouldn't allow children -- healthy or sniffling -- within eyesight of the newborn. She admitted adults to her home only after she carefully screened them for colds and other illnesses and even then she send them off first thing to wash their hands.

"I was a total freak about it, absolutely psychotic," says Hurlbut, who is a registered nurse in Pasadena, Calif. But she's convinced that those draconian measures -- along with breast-feeding almost exclusively for Kyra's first year -- paid off by keeping her baby healthy. "Kyra didn't even get a cold until she was 8 months old."

Pediatricians say infants typically don't get sick much in the first few months after birth, primarily because they're born with antibodies they've acquired in the womb. Breast-feeding can also help protect against certain ailments, such as ear infections and some respiratory illnesses.

Build That Immunity

Nonetheless, it's important to minimize exposure to germs in the first three months because babies' immune systems aren't developed until then, and their bodies aren't as good at battling illnesses on their own yet. Premature infants are at greatest risk of getting sick since they haven't had as long in utero to acquire their moms' antibodies.

"In those early weeks, their bodies don't respond as efficiently as they will when they get to be 3 to 6 months of age," says Dr. Lillian Blackmon, associate professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine and a member of the American Academy's committee on fetuses and newborns.

Even the common cold can be tough on infants since they breathe only through their noses during the first few months and can't cough to clear mucus from the backs of their throats. Their airways are smaller, too. "They get into a lot of distress," says Dr. Blackmon. "They'll be irritable, they won't feed well, they'll cry, and they won't sleep very well."

Avoiding the 'Day-care Flu'

Parents can do a lot to stave off illnesses. "Number one, wash your hands a lot because that's one of the major ways that things are transmitted," says Dr. William Kanto, chairman of the department of pediatrics at Medical College of Georgia and another AAP member of the fetus and newborn committee.

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