There’s growing concern that being too clean is bad for babies’ immunity. But before you ditch the rubber gloves, there are some essential hygiene rules that are worth following. By Hannah Fox
If there was ever a sign that you need to mop your floors, it’s seeing the colour of your baby’s knees after a day spent crawling around. But should you shrug your shoulders or reach for the bleach? Read these baby hygiene rules before you decide.
“Your baby’s immune system actually builds by fighting germs,” says UK-based health visitor Anne White. Studies prove that exposure to germs ‘teaches’ your baby’s body how to fend off disease and reduces the risk of him developing allergies. “If your body didn’t have germs to fight, it could start reacting to essentially harmless things like dust mites and pollen instead,” says Lindsey McManus from Allergy UK. Obviously where hygiene standards are low, the risk of illness – particularly to babies – is much higher, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to household cleaner.
Here are the parts of your home you really need to keep clean:
Be scrupulous about the areas where you prepare food and the place where your baby eats. “Use an antibacterial spray and dry the area with kitchen paper as germs thrive in a damp environment,” says Iain Stewart, a preschool hygiene expert (toyguard.co.uk).
Baby bottles should be sterilised until your baby is a year old, to kill all germs. Milk is particularly good for growing bacteria: “So thoroughly scrub your baby’s feeding equipment with a bottle brush before sterilising,” says Anne. “You should also sterilise baby cutlery, plates, cups and dummies up to one year.”
Living room floor
“Babies are born with a natural sucking reflex and a heightened oral sense, so will often ‘test’ objects with their mouth,” says Anne. And that means anything from toy cars to coins, so vacuum regularly.
Wipe your baby’s changing mat after each change with antibacterial spray, and keep all dirty nappies in a nappy bin. Alternatively, place dirty nappies in bags, tie securely and put in your household bin.
After bath time, leave the bath upturned so it can dry properly. “Bath toys, especially those that squirt water, can get really germy because they can stay damp,” says Anne. “Scrub bath toys with a brush every few weeks and replace every six months.”
“UV rays from the sun destroy germs, so letting your baby crawl around on a dry patch of ground should be fine,” says Iain. If you have a sandpit, make sure it’s been raked to remove any bacteria-laden mouldy twigs or leaves and cover it up when not in use.
Your hands are a superhighway for germs so make sure you wash them regularly, and always after nappy changes and before handling food. “Nothing beats soap and water for cutting through grime and stickiness,” says Iain. Encourage your toddler to wash hands, too – Iain recommends you hold your baby’s hands in your own, rubbing soap between the fingers for 20 seconds before rinsing thoroughly. Then he can run off and get filthy all over again.
Five ways to boost your immunity
Paediatrician Martin Ward-Platt’s top tips to keep your baby strong:
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