Parenting a tiny human who is new to this world is one of the most terrifying experiences in life. Within a couple days you go from being hugely pregnant to hopping into your car, ready to drive home with a miniature person you’re 100% in charge of keeping alive.
So sometimes parents of babies have a few strict rules (or a long list) that they expect others to follow in order to keep this brand-new creation of theirs healthy. And it’s not up to anyone else to decide if those rules are ridiculous or unnecessary or if Mom and Dad are over-reacting. Basically, when it’s your baby, you’re the boss. And if people don’t like it, they can fuck right off.
One of those rules, especially in fall, winter, and early spring, is to do everything you can to protect your vulnerable baby from germs. RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is serious and possibly life-threatening illness that most often plagues infants and young children, the elderly, and people with chronic medical conditions like asthma. What looks like the common cold in healthy adults can send a baby like this sweet child, who hasn’t had time to build up their immune system, to the hospital.
And it’s because of the fear of illness like RSV that many parents have strict rules about cleanliness, hand-washing, and when and how you can touch their baby. Other rules include what food you’re allowed to feed them, shutting your trap about whether baby is bottle or breastfed, and staying far away if there’s even a hint of smoke on you.
But just in case you really don’t want to just “follow Mom’s orders” and need it broken down, here’s a comprehensive list of what to do / not to do around new babies.
1. Do not kiss babies.
We get it—they’re freaking adorable and you want to eat their fat little toes. But here’s the thing. Your mouth is full of germs. And that sweet little baby with those deliciously chunky toes is not strong enough yet to fight them off the way you and I are. Especially during winter months, you’re just going to have to show your affection for that baby in another way. Zip the lips, Aunt Susan, and keep them off my kid.
2. Wash and/or sanitize your hands.
If Mom or Dad literally squirts hand sanitizer into your palm as you walk in the door, you say nothing. You rub that shit all over your body if she asks you to. Or else you can stay on the other side of the street, mkay?
3. Don’t feed baby anything without parental approval.
If they say formula is okay, fine. If they don’t, it’s not. If baby is sitting up in a high chair and has started solids, again, only feed them foods on the approved list. It is not up to Grandma or the babysitter or anyone else to decide when baby has peanut butter or milk or pepperoni pizza for the first time. That’s a parent’s call, so respect that.
4. And speaking of firsts, don’t steal them.
If you’re babysitting and baby rolls over for the first time or takes their first step or says their first Ma-Ma, STFU. Parents don’t need to know that they missed a first milestone. Don’t you think they’re emotional enough having not slept in a year and being away from their baby right now? There’s no need to share this news, so shut it.
5. However baby is fed, be supportive or go away.
If Mom wants to breastfeed in the middle of the living room, she’s going to. Your job is to be a friend—help clean up, sit and visit with her, get her a drink or a snack, or play with her toddler. Your job is NOT to make HER feel awkward because you’re creepy about boobs. Likewise, if she prefers to retreat to another room for privacy, respect that. Offer a pillow, a glass of water, and leave her alone. And finally, if she pops a bottle of formula into that kid’s mouth, again, that’s her choice and your opinion has no merit. Maybe offer to feed baby so she can take a shower instead of spewing off your judgment about how she feeds her child.
6. Do not even attempt to come near a baby if you smell like smoke.
Even if it’s not due to your smoking but is the result of being near a smoker. Change your clothes. Take a shower. Come back tomorrow. Whatever Mom or Dad asks. Babies can inhale the toxins of cigarette smoke on your clothing and skin as you hold them, so that’s a big NOPE.
7. Do not steal the parents’ thunder and make a public birth announcement before they do.
This is their moment. Their blood, sweat, and tears just did all the work, so they deserve to tell the world. Not you. That’s a dick move. Don’t do it.
8. Do not touch babies you don’t know.
If there’s a cute baby in the shopping cart in front of you at Target, do not tickle their cute hands and feet or touch their hair. You are a stranger and are crossing a line. Smile, wave, say hello, play peek-a-boo. But hands off.
9. Do not criticize how the baby came into this world.
Maybe Mom had an emergency c-section. Maybe she had a planned one. Maybe she had a water birth. Maybe she got an epidural as she checked in to the hospital with a goddamn vanilla latte in her hand. Maybe Baby was born to a different birth mom or a surrogate. The baby is loved and that’s all that matters, so it’s not your concern.
10. Do not wake a baby up.
Do have any idea how precious those quiet moments are? If the parents finally got baby to sleep in a crib or on her lap or the floor or in the carseat driving laps around the cul-de-sac, LET. THEM. SLEEP. Oh, this is the only time YOU had to stop by and see little Aiden? Sorry, Grams. Them’s the rules. You can watch him sleep through this fab baby monitor though. (And FYI, if you ring that doorbell and wake up the baby, every mom on earth will put a curse upon your soul.)
11. Do not make parenting choices that aren’t yours to make.
For example, do not give baby any type of medicine (or old school “remedy”) without talking to parents first. Maybe Mom or Dad will be all about smearing a little whiskey on baby’s gums, but it’s their call. Not yours. Do not decide that baby is ready to go swimming, or to have a bath, or sit on Grandpa’s lap as he rides a tractor if that hasn’t happened yet.
12. Do not visit if you aren’t up to date on vaccines.
Get your flu shot. If the parents ask you to get vaccinated for pertussis (whooping cough), do that too. See if you need boosters on anything else. If your doctor recommends a pneumonia vaccine, get it. Protecting yourself is how you protect that innocent baby you so desperately want to see.
13. Stay away if you’re sick.
It might be “just a cough” to you, a healthy adult. To a baby? It could be catastrophic. Go home, take some vitamin C, and call us next week.
In the end, just remember—these rules aren’t about you. None of this is about you. It’s about protecting a precious, vulnerable little person that you might care deeply for (or at least think is an adorable ray of sunshine at the grocery store). If you’re annoyed or offended at any “rules” a parent asks you to follow, too bad. Feel free to check out pics of your niece on social media then, because that’s as close as you’re going to get.