Until my baby is vaccinated, I don’t feel comfortable taking them out of the house or exposing them to anyone but my partner and me. Am I being paranoid?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

I don’t think you’re being paranoid. But let’s peel back the surface of your feelings by considering a few things. First, if your baby has a compromised immune system, it’s wise to be cautious about being around too many people until they’re less vulnerable. And if you’re in the thick of flu season or have family members who have been battling a “bug,” it’s best to avoid exposure for you and baby.

If you have a healthy baby, you’re likely fine to go out. This is especially true if you’re breastfeeding, as breastmilk fills your baby with antibodies and other goodies that work wonders at protecting them from harm, at least for a few months. The one “going out” caveat is that you might want to avoid incredibly crowded areas, like theme parks, malls, and cruise ships, for example, as these are the types of environments that can breed the spread of infection.

With that said, consider whether your hesitancy to leave the house or have people over also has to do with your need to integrate with all the changes you’re going through. Becoming a parent is one of the most massive, sudden transformations a human can go through, which makes it natural to want to pause interaction with the outside world until you get your bearings.

Whatever your reasoning, I recommend following your instincts. If you’re yearning to leave the house but guilt over exposing baby to a virus is holding you back, get creative about safe ways to go out. For example, you could go on walks, so long as you have a hard line with strangers trying to touch baby, which strangely happens more than you’d expect — people see something cute and want to touch. You could also meet friends for a picnic at the park or go to an uncrowded restaurant and sit on the patio. Essentially, choose activities that allow you to be outside, without having close contact with others.

If you want people to come over but worry about invisible dangers they might carry into your home, be strict about them washing their hands as soon as they arrive and holding off on coming over if they’re sick. Your pediatrician can also let you know if there are vaccinations you should confirm that others have before coming over. For example, whooping cough was a big problem when Hudson was born, so I and everyone who would be frequenting our house were vaccinated with Tdap before he was born. In addition to all that, you have every right to not allow anyone to hold the baby.

That’s my long way of saying that what you’re feeling is your maternal instincts giving you a strong signal that you should explore.

What to do

After contemplating where your hesitation to go out with baby or have people over is coming from, consider the following actions, as they can provide a welcome sense of security:

Get a recommendation from your pediatrician. If you’re raring to get out but fear keeps popping up, ask your baby’s pediatrician for their suggestion. They can guide you based on your baby’s unique health circumstances and any public health concerns you should be aware of.

For example, I’m writing this during the Covid-19 outbreak; for obvious reasons, this pandemic makes it easy to decide whether to go out or not. But even when we’re not in the midst of a pandemic, flu season and a flare-up of other viruses could cause the pediatrician to advise you to stay close to home for awhile. Regardless of their recommendation, you’ll likely have more clarity after the chat.

Breastfeed. While breastfeeding isn’t a substitute for vaccinations, the milk does give baby an extra layer of protection for about six months after birth. Breast milk does this by providing antibodies that support the immune system and protect against diseases you have had or have been vaccinated for. These antibodies can bind to potential pathogens and prevent their attachment to the baby’s cells. In addition, breastfeeding can enhance the baby’s response to certain vaccines.

Get vaccinated. Protecting yourself is one of the best ways to protect your baby. So confirm with your care provider that you’re up to date on vaccinations, and ask if they recommend any new ones. Many advise pregnant women to get a Tdap vaccine and a flu shot during pregnancy.

Don’t let others touch baby until they’ve washed their hands. Because close contact, touch in particular, is one of the main ways viruses spread, require anyone who wants to hold baby, or even just touch them, to wash their hands for at least twenty seconds first. And remember, you have every right to not allow others to hold or touch baby if you’re uncomfortable with it.

Verify the health standards of the day care facility you use. If your baby will need day care before they’re vaccinated, confirm the health standards of your preferred center by reading their health and safety inspection report. Many centers post these online, and you can also ask them for a copy. In addition, ask them about their hand-washing policy, vaccination requirements and records for those old enough to receive shots, guidelines for keeping a sick child home, and anything else you feel is important. The Child Care Aware website offers excellent resources for finding quality childcare: childcareaware.org/families /choosing-quality-child-care/starting-child-care-search/.

Avoid crowded spaces. As I mentioned before, crowded areas increase baby’s risk for contracting a virus. While the risk is probably pretty low when an outbreak isn’t occurring, if you’re feeling anxious you can enhance your peace of mind by avoiding crowded spaces until baby is vaccinated. For unavoidable sites like airports, minimize baby’s exposure by washing your hands as often as possible, not letting anyone touch them, and minimizing their contact with public surfaces.

Know that it’s okay to want to stay in. If baby’s health is only a portion of your hesitancy to interact with others, and all parts of you resist the idea of going out or socializing, trust that. Honor your need for time and space.

Create a loose script for when people hassle you about your need for space. Because it can be hard for others to understand your request for space — especially when they’re yearning to meet that adorable baby — come up with a go-to response for when you’re questioned. For example, “The pediatrician recommends we keep baby home and away from others for [insert your desired period of time here], and for baby’s safety we’re going to honor that.” Even if the pediatrician didn’t recommend this, I’m all about blaming it on them, as others are often loath to go against the word of a medical expert.

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