When you have a new baby, there are so many things you start to worry about and the health and well-being of your baby is probably at the top of that list. Without even realising it, making an extra effort to regularly wash your hands can save your child’s life. When I got home from the hospital with Khumo, I would ask our guests to please wash their hands before holding her. At first, it felt like an awkward and controlling request to make, but it was one of the best things I could have done for her. Her birth, also gave me an opportunity to re-affirm hand-washing habits with her older brother too.
Ahead of Global Handwashing Day, this Saturday, 15 October I wanted to highlight the importance of washing your hands, as well as some of the risks that we can unintentionally put our children through if we do not take extra precautions.
How is Global Handwashing Day relevant to us as moms?
In Africa, more than 2.5 million children don’t reach the milestone age of five and in many cases this is due to preventable illness such as diarrhoea and respiratory disease. Babies are most vulnerable within the first 28 days after birth and studies have shown that 1 out of 3 babies in Africa don’t survive this early stage due to infections such as diarrhoea1. This really breaks my heart, considering that it’s avoidable if moms and caregivers simply wash their hands with soap and running water before touching a baby. This is an effective method of not spreading germs that a new-born baby’s immune system is not yet developed enough to encounter.
In most African cultures, guests are usually prohibited for the first 10 – 60 days of life, partially for this very reason.
NEONATAL CARE TIPS FROM LIFEBUOY:
Wash your hands before handling your newborn. Young babies have not built up a strong immune system and are susceptible to infection. Therefore it’s very important to frequently wash your hands, especially before feeding and after nappy changes. Make sure that everyone who handles your baby also has clean hands. It’s especially important to wash hands:
- Before handling preterm babies
- During the first week while umbilical cord is still attached
- When anyone has a cough/cold
- After returning from outside
- After cleaning or touching the baby’s faeces;
- After using the bathroom
Prevent diaper rash by changing your baby’s nappy frequently, and as soon as possible after bowel movements. Always remember to wash your hands with soap and running water after handling dirty nappies to stop the spread of infection.
Be careful when pets are around your newborn. Don’t leave your baby alone with pets or near pets. Make sure pets do not get into the crib with your baby. When your baby is very young, don’t allow the family dog or cat to lick your baby’s face. This could transmit infectious material (such as faeces) into the baby’s mouth or eyes. Make sure that anyone who has come into contact with your pets washes their hands thoroughly before touching your new-born.
Don’t expose your baby to large groups of people before 6 weeks old. The more people your baby is exposed to, the more likely it is that s/he will come in contact with someone who is sick, especially during flu season. Ensure you prevent the spread of everyday infections such as common colds, flu and digestive disorders by adopting healthy hand washing routines – keeping yourself healthy is important when you are nursing a new-born.
Sanitise all parts of the bottles and feeding equipment (including breast pump attachments) to protect your new-born from microbes that could be ingested during feeding. To avoid contamination, it’s imperative to wash your hands when handling any of this equipment.
Improve your family’s health and develop a daily healthy hand washing routine. Teach the rest of the family to wash their hands with soap and running water – a simple splash under water is not effective in destroying germs, specifically at the five key occasions namely before breakfast, lunch and dinner, after using the bathroom and during bathing.
Lifebuoy introduced the Neonatal Programme to help raise the profile of the connection between new-born survival and washing hands with soap, in communities across the globe including South Africa; improving neonatal survival rates ensures more children reach their fifth birthday. The programme educates and empowers birth attendants and expectant moms on how to hygienically care for a new-born.
Watch this real-life saving experiment where Eunice, a mother-to-be from Migori in Kenya (a region that has the highest rate of new-born fatalities in the country) gets to “meet” her unborn child.
Have an older child? Here is how to help them to make handwashing a habit:
Create your own hand-washing song together, make it fun and simple to remember.
Put up some signage next to the bathroom tap to remind them. If they cant read yet, use lots of pictures.
Don’t allow them to eat a meal or snack before washing their hands.
Have soap next to all taps in your home, including your kitchen.
Modern Zulu Mom