I went into labor with our first daughter in the middle of the night. While it was almost twenty years ago, I remember everything with surprising clarity.
I specifically recall the elevator doors opening to the labor and delivery floor of the hospital and my parents, sitting in the waiting room chairs, half-finished coffees in their hands.
“Where have you been?!” my parents said, rushing toward us.
They had beaten us to the hospital. By quite some time. In the middle of the night.
To say that they were excited is vastly understating the situation. They were fueled by deep and otherworldly anticipation that, from what my mom has tried to explain to me countless times, only grandparents can understand.
I don’t doubt it. Their love and enthusiasm for their four grandkids were as real then as it is today. They quite literally couldn’t wait to get their hands on their first grandchild. From that point onward, they’ve been loved every minute of being grandparents and they’ve showered their grandkids with affection.
But in those first, early days of life, when the spread of germs is a chief concern, how grandparents shower that affection on a new grandchild is an important thing to address. A new grandparent might be very eager to smother the newborn with kisses, but you may not want them to (and for valid reasons).
We offer advice for telling a new grandmother that she needs to wait a little longer.
Reasons Why You Might Not Want Grandma (or Grandparents, in General) to Kiss Your Baby
Newborns have weak immune systems, haven’t had their vaccinations yet, and aren’t able to fight off infection like older children and adults. It’s essential that there is extra care in keeping them safe and protected. Our faces are home to millions of microscopic organisms and when someone kisses a newborn baby’s face, those germs can be easily transferred.
Infants are particularly susceptible to the HSV-1, or the Herpes Simplex Virus. This virus can cause cold sores in and around the mouths of adults. Even with good oral hygiene and even if the adult isn’t showing symptoms of these mouth blisters, they can pass the virus to an infant through kissing. HSV can lead to viral meningitis or encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Both can be life-threatening to newborn babies.
Babies are particularly vulnerable to RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). RSV is an inflammation of the respiratory system that can lead to pneumonia. Potentially very serious to a baby’s weak immune system, it can lead to complications, hospitalization, and even death.
Mononucleosis is known as “the kissing disease” because it’s spread through kissing. There is no cure and the only way to fight it is with a strong immune system. Of course, this can be devastating to a newborn. It’s also possible to pass the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) through kissing if you’ve ever had mononucleosis, as it is passed through saliva.
In addition to illness, allergies can be dangerous to infants. We don’t know what our children are allergic to unless and until there is exposure. Therefore, it’s impossible to know what food allergies a newborn might have.
By kissing a baby, an adult can expose them to a variety of allergens, including gluten, soy, peanut butter, other nuts, etc. This can cause allergic reactions and in the long term, potential risks are just not worth it.
Skincare products and chemicals
The products that most adults use every day, such as skincare products, soaps, and cosmetics can be toxic to newborns.
Most adults are immune to the risks associated with these items, but infants can have severe reactions. Newborns can even have a spontaneous, allergic reaction to your lip balm.
Is It Rude to Tell Family Members to Not Kiss Your Baby?
You and your partner are the parents and therefore have every right to make decisions about the care of your baby. It’s perfectly okay for you to set rules about how people, even close family members, interact with your child. In fact, it’s important to the health and well-being of your newborn.
It’s helpful to explain the risks and potential dangers of kissing an infant, letting loved ones know that you’re keeping your little one safe. When you tell family visitors that kissing, even on the cheek and especially on the baby’s lips, can lead to complications such as respiratory problems, they are likely to be more respectful of your wishes.
Explaining that you understand just how much they want to hug and kiss their newest, a little family member can go a long way in easing into the conversation. Telling them that you know it’s out of deep adoration and love can help to soften the (potential) blow.
Setting boundaries with kindness, empathy, and compassion isn’t rude, it’s healthy parenting.
8 Ways to (Gently) Ask Grandma to Not Kiss The Baby
Whether you’re having the conversation upfront or you’re responding to Grandma or Grandpa kissing your newborn baby, the following are our eight best tips on handling that conversation with grace, understanding, as well as firmness.
Depending on the personality of the person you’re dealing with, this chat will be easy or it could be a bit prickly. Knowing that you have every right to create a set of rules about how people interact with your infant will give you the confidence that you might need to get through it, even if it’s difficult.
1. Start early
If possible, have the conversation before the baby is born. Letting family and friends know what you’ll consent to and what you won’t be very helpful in setting expectations from the start. This gives everyone time to process and digest the information, so they can get used to it.
2. Ask nicely
You might need to have the conversation after the baby is born because you didn’t get around to it before or perhaps Grandma needs a reminder when she holds her grandchild for the first time. Gently explain or remind them not to kiss the baby.
You can explain that it’s not personal, it’s just not safe at this early stage. And certainly, everyone wants this precious bundle to be safe and healthy.
3. Share the facts
Usually, telling grandparents, other family members, and friends how serious the risks can be from kissing a new baby, will be enough to make an impact. But some might need a little more convincing.
Sharing the facts, data, and articles with your loved ones about what can happen, will certainly help them to accept and be more respectful of your wishes.
4. Be firm
On the occasion that a grandparent is upset or puts up a fight, stand your ground. Repeat your reasons and why it’s important to you. But at the end of the day, you might need to explain that this is your baby, these are your wishes, and if they’d like to visit, they need to respect them.
It’s okay if they don’t agree, but they need to follow your rules.
5. Unite as a couple
Be sure that you and your partner are on the same page so that both sets of grandparents are getting the same story. A united front can go a long way in setting boundaries… and is great training for all that parenting you have ahead of you!
6. Blame the doctor
When all else fails or if you want an easy out or if you have a particularly stubborn relative, tell them that it’s doctor’s orders. If they don’t believe you, they might be more likely to believe your doctor. It can also do the double duty of taking the pressure off of you.
7. Let them know it’s not forever
While it takes some time for the immune system to build, the first six weeks are the most fragile and the time when you need to be the most cautious. Eventually, they’ll be able to snuggle and cover that little face and neck with kisses, so it won’t last forever.
8. Be especially clear when it comes to illness
If grandparents come down with something, it’s imperative that they stay away until all of the symptoms clear up. Something as simple as a runny nose or a cough can mean real danger for a newborn with essentially no immune system.
Even with a mask on, it’s often not enough protection, especially if there’s a sneeze, fever, or sore throat.