The holidays are upon us, and nothing is more akin to a starfish in a touch tank than a baby at a family gathering. If this Thanksgiving will be your little one’s first group social, you may be feeling a bit uneasy about exposing your baby to so many people—and their germs.
Given that cold and flu season is likely to be in full swing, your desire to protect your baby from illness is understandable. But assuming you don’t want to be housebound with your child forever, you may be wondering how to let Aunt Rita know you love her, just not her cold—especially her cold around your baby.
We spoke with Certified Etiquette Instructor and owner of Etiquette for Everyday Kelly Frager to arm you with some tips for handling just a few scenarios you may find yourself in this holiday season.
Scenario 1: You arrive at a gathering to find Cousin Amy brought her runny-nosed toddler, who of course is drawn to your baby like a magnet.
Ah, toddlers. They’re busy, they’re curious, and they don’t give a lick about germs or the mucus pouring from their noses. So what do you do when you walk through the door and the tot makes a beeline for your baby?
First, consider keeping your baby in his infant seat initially or walking in while wearing him in a baby carrier to give yourself the opportunity to say your hellos, settle in, and assess whether anyone is feeling under the weather. Most people would hesitate to disturb a baby snuggly bundled in his carseat or, if you’re wearing your baby, move in too close.
If you see the toddler coming toward your baby, you might say something like, “Sam, are you so excited to see Ryan? Let me show you where you can touch him!” suggests Frager. You can then show the child how to touch your baby’s toes, or redirect his attention. “If you see grandma holding baby Ryan and runny-nosed toddler Sam comes over and starts to touch elsewhere, that’s where you can swoop in and gently say, ‘Hi, Sam! Come over here—let me see you!’” Frager says.
If that doesn’t work, you may want to have grandma hand your baby off to your spouse or significant other for some fresh air or a diaper change to create some distance.
Scenario 2: Your dad reaches for your baby’s hands before you’ve had the chance to ask him to wash his.
If your baby’s pediatrician is like mine, she advised you to ask others to wash their hands before they touch or hold your baby. But in a group setting in particular, that may be easier said than done.
If your dad/sister-in-law/aunt makes a grab for your baby’s hands before you’ve had a chance to request they scrub up, Frager recommends injecting a sense of humor into your response. “Just be like, ‘Time out, Dad! I’m the hand-washing police! That’s my job today.’”
Other options are to dress your baby in those little mittens designed to keep her from scratching herself, or discreetly wipe her hands at the next available opportunity.
“What you don’t want to do is have someone else feeling bad about wanting to be part of your baby’s life,” Frager says. Scenario 3: Your mother-in-law won’t stop kissing your baby’s cheeks.
Finding the right words can be even more difficult when it comes to our in-laws. That’s why it’s important to ensure your spouse is on board with your strategy for handling these types of situations before they occur, suggests Frager. A good approach is to have your spouse speak up.
Tone of voice is important here. “Remember the old adage, ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,’” says Frager. “Imagine a son with his arm around his mom saying, ‘Mom, we love that you love [baby] so much, but we’re being overly cautious because he’s so little right now. So instead of loving all over his face and his cheeks, could you please love all over his cute little feet?’”
Alternatively, you can put the onus on your baby’s pediatrician: “I’m sorry, Mom—doctor’s orders are to kiss only the top of the baby’s head until he gets a little older.”
Scenario 4: Your relatives are passing your baby around like a hot potato.
A baby’s schedule is a pretty simple one: Eat. Sleep. Poop. Repeat. If you’re ever uncomfortable with a situation or just feel like your baby needs a break from all the attention, take advantage of her need to nap or nurse and retreat to a quiet place. You are the manager of your baby, reminds Frager. Be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to make decisions you feel are in the best interest of your child.
Pre-act, Don’t React
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you find trying to navigate these different scenarios too overwhelming and would like to minimize the chances of them happening in the first place, consider sending a brief email or text in advance to whomever will be at the gathering. Frager proposes expressing your excitement in including your little one in the festivities and kindly asking everyone who’s healthy to wash their hands before holding your baby if they’d like to do so. For those who may not be feeling 100%, ask that they maintain their distance at the gathering and suggest a separate cuddle session with your baby for when they’re better.
The above guidelines are simply that: guidelines. “Only you know your family and your friends and how to best approach them in these situations,” says Frager.
Also, if at some point your baby catches something you were hoping he wouldn’t, your breastmilk may produce more infection-fighting cells if it detects something’s amiss, research suggests.
Finally—and perhaps most importantly—remember the reason these scenarios exist: Your loved ones are so excited and eager to love on your baby. Frager notes, “The more we can better think through these situations and scenarios that we’ll be faced with, the better prepared we [will be] in terms of communicating and keeping the joy and the love in those particular situations.” And that, dear moms, is what we can all use a little more of this holiday season.
Beth Miller is a freelance writer/editor living in Northern Virginia and mother of two energetic boys, both of whom were breastfed and can now leap over tall buildings in a single bound.