Carolyn Hax: A mom-to-be’s antibiotic approach

Columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I’m due to give birth to my first child any day now. While I understand that everyone is excited, I am worried because I contracted an infection when I was 6 weeks old that required hospitalization. My husband and I decided that when the baby is born, we will limit visitors to close family and friends. Everyone will be asked to sanitize their hands and arms and we plan on having clean gowns for people holding the baby to put over their clothing. We have also decided we will have an official coming-out party when the baby is a few months old for extended family and friends to see him.

The issue: Some of my in-laws have stated they would not have purchased a shower gift had they known this. One couple has asked for their gift back. Carolyn, I never knew that concern for my baby’s health would cause this much grief! Am I overreacting?

Twisted Logic

To the possibility of infection? Way overreacting. At least, in this layman’s opinion.

Please run this plan by your pediatrician — not only because I think your fears are disproportionate in this case, but also because letting fear guide your child-rearing decisions is an unhappy path. So is taking a “sanitize me” approach, since bodies equip themselves to fight infections through exposure to germs, and a gown mentality could set your baby up to be sickly down the road.

I might even go so far as to suggest you get screened for anxiety or OCD, given the extreme measures you’re considering.

Still — the threats from your in-laws are just bizarre.

Re: Twisted Logic:

Carolyn, I’m disappointed in your response. I generally have a “more dirt is better” approach — but for that first month or so, we were of the wash-and-sanitize variety. Newborns who get infections have far more risk than even older infants. New motherhood is stressful and filled with the opportunity to second-guess and feel guilty. If a few months of precautions let her sleep better, it’s insane to give into bullies for the sake of their convenience.

Anonymous

I’m all for ignoring bullies, and the bullies are not why I flagged her sterile-arms-and-gowns approach. I also don’t expect people to ignore cleanliness around newborns; I used and support reasonable precautions.

But gowns, around a child who is not premature or known to have health problems? The reason I suggested she talk to their pediatrician has, again, nothing to do with the in-laws and everything to do with getting off to a markedly fear-driven start, which rarely turns into the, “Ahhh, we can stop engineering a perfect world now” moment.

My advice to any new parent is to learn to take a fact-based approach to risk, since there’s no way to eliminate it entirely and it’s more costly when it’s mismanaged. (As in, when people go to great lengths to protect against a perceived risk that isn’t statistically much of a threat, and in the process ignore something mundane — like constant fretting about risk — that could have a huge negative impact on the child’s life.)

Getting into the habit of lining up reasonable and informed advisers, books included, and using them as questions like this one arise is a wonderful long-term investment.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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