Is someone close to you having a baby? Check out the nine most important rules for visiting a baby!
A new baby – what a blessing!
But in all of the excitement, it’s easy to forget that this is also a delicate time in the lives of the parents. In addition to recovering from birth and adjusting to their new life, they’re sleep-deprived.
This is a time for them to get used to their new family dynamic. On top of all that, having visitors can strain the couple that’s already adjusting to their new life.
With so much going on, it’s important to be extra thoughtful when you visit the baby.
Whether you’re a grandparent, relative, friend, neighbor, or even a coworker, you play an important role in the family’s life. So what can you do to have a pleasant visit and be the kind of visitor who gets invited back often?
It’s simple – follow these nine important rules for visiting a newborn!
This list is the Newborn Nine, and it takes into consideration the true (and often unspoken) needs of the baby, mom, and dad. The goal of this list is not to alienate visitors, divide family, or make anyone feel unwelcome. It exists to help friends and family members handle their visits with compassion and consideration.
The main things I ask from you? Please read this list with an open heart, don’t break these rules, never take anything personally, and when in doubt, always do what’s best for the baby.
The 9 Most Important Rules for Visiting a Newborn
Here are the Newborn 9 rules to follow if you’re going to visit a family with a new baby. Remember, never make assumptions and always approach the situation with sensitivity and respect for the baby, mom, and dad.
Rule #1: Never Expose the Baby to Cigarette Smoke
Smoking is your choice, but exposing a newborn baby to the chemicals in cigarettes would be dangerous and irresponsible. If you smoke, you’ll need to do more than wash your hands after you smoke or smoke in a different room.
Cigar, vape, or cigarette smoke lingers on your clothing, hair, and skin, so when you hold a baby, you would be exposing the baby to thirdhand smoke.
Thirdhand smoke is real — it is when residual chemicals (including nicotine) are left on surfaces that came in contact with cigarette smoke. It’s different than secondhand smoke, which is when you’re exposed to cigarette smoke from someone else who is smoking. Thirdhand smoke will be on surfaces like clothing, furniture, toys, vehicles, etc. and it has been shown to cause damage to DNA.1
So, what do you do if you’re a smoker and you want to be around the baby? Follow these steps:
- Take a full shower and change into fresh, clean clothes before you see the baby.
- After you shower, don’t smoke again until after you visit the baby (so that might mean not smoking for a few hours).
- Be willing to use a blanket when you hold the baby, or simply don’t assume you’ll hold the baby at all. It’s the parents’ choice as to whether they are comfortable having a smoker hold their baby.
Personally, I would never let a smoker hold my baby and I hope you can understand why most parents would be uncomfortable. It isn’t personal if you aren’t asked to hold the baby; it’s not you — it’s the chemicals.
If you are a close family member such as the grandparent or other close relative, and can’t go several hours without smoking, here is an alternative (but less-desirable) option for you. Wear a long-sleeved shirt while smoking and change into new clothes and wash your hands, arms, and face with soap and water and brush your teeth before visiting the baby. Again, please do not expect the parents to allow you to hold the baby, but if they do, be prepared to use a blanket.
If you are not a close family member or close friend and you can’t follow steps 1-3 listed above, it is best for you to wait to meet the baby.
(Note: rule #1 applies to vaping and marijuana, too.)
Rule #2: NO Fragrance or Perfume Around the Baby
Experts call fragrance the new second-hand smoke.
It’s true: scents of all kinds pose a health risk to babies. In addition to being an irritant, “fragrance” can include unhealthy ingredients that legally don’t even have to be disclosed. Many of these chemicals can even pass through direct contact and enter the bloodstream.
When “fragrance” is listed as an ingredient, it likely includes a combination of chemicals that are linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity, allergies, and other sensitivities. For example, one of the major concerns is phthalates in fragrances. Phthalates have been linked to endocrine disruption and reproductive toxicity, birth defects, breast cancer, infertility, obesity, diabetes, allergies, asthma, and more. 2,3
Phthalate exposure in males has been linked to lower sperm counts and altered sperm quality, and in females exposure can affect thyroid levels and alter thyroid function. -Made Safe 3
As if that weren’t enough reason to stop wearing fragrance in the presence of a baby (if not altogether), you should also consider the fact that it can aggravate a baby’s skin and may even contribute to eczema flare-ups or allergic reactions.
While some natural fragrances, such as essential oils, may be a safer alternative to synthetic fragrances, even essential oils aren’t safe for babies and young children. So play it safe, and don’t use any of the following products before you visit the baby.
Scented items to avoid include:
- Body spray
- Scented hair products
- Essential oils
- Scented candles
- Scented lotions
- Scented laundry detergents
- Dryer sheets
- Antibacterial or scented hand soaps
- Bug spray
- Plug-ins and air-fresheners
- Most cleaning products
Something as simple as painting your nails in the baby’s home or wearing your favorite perfume can expose the baby to harmful chemicals.
Please keep it simple and don’t use any fragrances on yourself or in the baby’s environment.
Rule #3: Don’t Visit if You Could Be Sick or Contagious
This is a no-brainer. If you’ve been sick, your kids or partner have been sick, or anyone you’re with on a regular basis is sick, you need to stay home. Even if there’s any remote possibility that you could be sick or contagious, or have an outbreak or flare-up of any kind, you should reschedule your visit.
Even if you’re a relative, please wait until you’re better. It’s best for everyone, and the new parents will greatly appreciate your consideration for their child.
Newborns are especially vulnerable to what we might consider a minor cold or illness. A single sniffle or itchy throat may not be a big threat to you but can be very serious for a baby.
According to the New York Times:
Newborns don’t handle infection very well. Their immature immune systems leave them vulnerable to severe infections that can rage out of control. In the worst cases, bacteria get into the bloodstream, from a urinary infection or a skin infection for example, and cause bacterial sepsis. Or even worse, the bacteria leak from the bloodstream through the barrier that is supposed to separate blood and brain, causing meningitis.
It’s never worth the risk. Let’s play it safe and save the visit for when you know you’re healthy. Ask the parents to skype or FaceTime until you’re better.
Rule #4: Never EVER Kiss The Baby…EVER
As tempting as it might be, never kiss a newborn under any circumstances. Ever.
In fact, don’t touch their face, lips, or hands, either.
I know this seems over the top and difficult to do. I have two kids, so I understand the desire to give the baby a kiss, but kissing a young baby can be very dangerous and cause serious health issues.
Here are some of the health risks that can be spread from kissing:
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-1). You can pass HSV-1 to anyone by kissing them. That’s one of the main ways the Herpes Simplex Virus is passed from person to person.4
Don’t think this applies to you? According to the World Health Organization, two-thirds of the world’s population carries the Herpes virus.5 Many people shed the virus asymptomatically and do not even know they carry it. The infection can be contagious even when the person does not have a cold sore present. 4
HSV-1 can cause serious health concerns for babies.
According to infectious disease specialist Camille Sabella, MD, when a newborn gets infected with certain viruses like the Herpes virus, “it can quickly spread through their bloodstream and infect many of the different organs.” 6
Not convinced? Here are two very sad stories that illustrate just how serious this is. (Trigger warning.) This is one story of a baby who contracted herpes simplex from a visitor (read the story here), and here’s another story of an 18-day old baby who didn’t survive after contracting HSV-1 and viral meningitis from a kiss (read the story here).
So this is all to say — do not visit the baby if you have a cold sore present or are healing from one. Wait until it is fully healed. And even then, do not kiss the baby.
Some pediatricians even recommend visitors who are prone to cold sores wear an antiviral face mask when visiting the baby (whether or not you have a cold sore present). If you will be visiting the baby often or for an extended period of time, you should also ask your doctor about taking prophylactic medication to reduce shedding the virus and mitigate any risks to the baby.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
RSV is a viral infection that can make breathing difficult for babies. It is highly contagious and since babies have smaller airways to start, any such inflammation can be dangerous or even fatal. 7
HSV and RSV are two serious problems that can be caused when kids or adults kiss, cough, sneeze, or have saliva on their hands. And yes, there are many more illnesses to be aware of. You can pass a stomach virus, hand foot and mouth, or even colds, which may seem minor to you but wouldn’t be minor for a small baby.
For these very serious reasons, always follow the no-kissing policy when visiting a baby. And yes, this rule even applies to grandma and grandpa, 100%!
Rule #5: Ask Permission Before Taking and Posting Photos
Before snapping any photos of the little cutie, please ask the parents if they’re comfortable with you taking the baby’s picture.
If they allow pictures of the baby, promise me that you won’t ever use the flash. That’s way too bright for a newborn’s eyes.
It’s also important to honor the parents’ wishes about posting pictures of their children online. Many parents don’t want pictures of their children shared on social media or uploaded to photo editing apps. For child protection and safety, you need to honor their wishes. Not just now — always.
It is not anyone’s right but the parents’ to determine what they want to do with pictures of their children. While I know it can be disappointing to not be able to share pictures of the baby (especially if you’re a close relative), you have to follow their lead on this because not all parents are comfortable with this.
Why? Aside from it being their decision, photo theft is a real thing.8
Digital kidnapping isn’t uncommon nowadays (where someone steals a photo of someone else’s child and pretends it is their own) and children’s photos posted on Facebook have ended up pornography sites. It is shocking and sickening and yet it happens every day.
Finally, sharing photos may reveal the child’s location, making the child vulnerable. When you take a digital picture, image details such as the camera model, aperture, and shutter speed are recorded in the image’s “metadata”. This can also include the location the photo was taken in and the GPS coordinates. (Smartphones typically record this information.) This means that someone who wants to figure out where the child lives may be able to do so by viewing the picture’s metadata. Some social media sites strip this information from photos when they are uploaded, but others do not.9
Simply put – you have to follow the parents’ rules on this. Now and always.
And as a side note, if the parents haven’t yet announced the birth on social media, please don’t announce the baby’s birth. Don’t even share the baby’s name. It’s not anyone else’s right to announce it but the parents’.
Rule #6: Wash Your Hands (Again!) Before Holding The Baby
If the parents invite you to hold the baby, you must wash your hands first. ALWAYS, even if you just washed them 20 minutes ago. Wash them again right before holding the baby.
This rule applies to everybody.
And I say if because it shouldn’t be assumed that everyone gets to hold the baby. (In fact, if the mom is wearing the baby in a baby carrier, you should take that a sign that she doesn’t want anyone holding or touching the baby.)
Why do you need to wash your hands? Because babies don’t have strong immune systems. Even if your hands look clean, bacteria accumulate on your hands and can cause infections. For example, your cell phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat.10
If you hold or touch the baby and your hands aren’t clean, you are exposing the baby to dangerous germs.
As mentioned above, if a baby does get sick, their little immune system hasn’t matured enough to compartmentalize illness. Any infection can spread quickly to other organs and become a very serious situation. So, wash your hands right before you hold the baby! And otherwise don’t touch the baby’s hands, lips, or face.
Washing your hands isn’t hard and it doesn’t take long, but it can greatly help to decrease the chances of getting that precious little baby sick. 11
A full 20-second scrub is what is needed to prevent the spreading of germs. 12
Rule #7: Always Give a Crying Baby Back to Mom
As much as you might want to help calm the baby when he is crying, if the baby is crying or fussing, give him back to his mom immediately. There is nothing more anxiety inducing for a new mom to listen to her baby cry in the arms of someone else, knowing that the baby is probably crying because he wants his mom.
Mom’s hormones basically scream out give me my baby when she hears her newborn cry or express a need. A mom will know she wants her baby back, but it’s often challenging and awkward for her to communicate this.
She shouldn’t have to say, “Um, excuse me, can you please give me back my crying baby?”
So, if the baby is getting fussy or seems upset, at the very least you can ask if she would like the baby back or if you can help soothe the baby. Or just assume that mom and baby need each other and hand that baby over to her mom.
There will probably be other opportunities for you to hold the baby when he’s not struggling with separation anxiety and is well rested and fed, and feeling happy again.
Rule #8: Respect the Parents’ Choices
Meeting the baby for the first time should be about celebrating their birth. It’s not the time to question a parent’s decision on how they feed their baby or how they are trying to parent.
Simply put, everyone who visits a new baby needs to be respectful of the parents’ decisions and not give unsolicited advice. It isn’t the time to give unsolicited advice or try to do things your own way. It’s also not the time for lectures or questioning.
For example, if the mom is nursing, don’t bat an eye (and the same goes for parents using baby formula). If they practice respectful parenting and ask the baby if they can pick her up, please don’t treat them like they’re aliens. If they prefer wooden toys or 100% cotton clothing for the baby, those are their choices to make.
And they don’t need to be talked out of them. They’re raising their children how they want to.
Similarly, it’s not appropriate to tell the parents that their baby is spoiled, needy, or should be sleep trained or disciplined. It’s not your place and this isn’t the time.
Never feed the baby unless the parents hand you a bottle and ask you to.
If the mom asks you for advice, share your thoughts but be sure not to be judgmental or unsupportive of her choices. Don’t overload her with every piece of advice you can think of. There’ll be plenty of time for advice!
The bottom line is this: the parents are the ones who get to decide how to raise and care for their baby. Even if you’re a grandparent or close family member, you have to honor their wishes. While we’re on the subject, don’t feed a 6-month old cake or eggs (or anything) behind their back.
Honor the parents, always.
Rule #9: Keep the Noise Level Down Around the Baby
Remember how babies are adjusting to their new environment? The world can be a scary place, and they may need extra gentle treatment during those first few weeks of life.
One of the most important things you can do for a baby is to keep the noise level down. Use a softer voice when speaking in the company of the baby and don’t make any noises that may wake the baby from a nap.
Being overly animated or yelling and arguing in the presence of a baby can cause emotional distress for the baby.13 Please be extra mindful to keep conversations calm and low around the baby and avoid having confrontational discussions in the baby’s presence.
Why Do We Need Rules for Visiting a Baby?
We need to establish a firm set of rules for visiting a newborn to honor what the family is experiencing and to make this time of adjustment easier for them.
New parents need their village more than ever before. They need people in their corner who will be there for them. And the baby needs to be welcomed into a world of love, support, respect, safety, and friendship. They need role models and stable relationships and friendly, familiar faces as they grow up. They need people that are going to be there for them.
But let’s place ourselves in their shoes for a minute…
Delivering a baby is hard work, so mom will be recovering from birth and labor. Some women have easy births and some have difficult deliveries and may struggle with birth-related trauma. Recovery can take weeks or months.
While one mom might want lots of visitors and help with changing diapers, another mom might need time to recover and may not be ready for anyone to hold the baby.
She might also feel exhausted, sad, or just “off”. Postpartum depression and anxiety are far more common than anyone admits, and it is likely that the mom might be facing her own emotions and hormonal changes in the weeks after delivery.
At the very least, you can count on the fact that she is sleep-deprived, which can wreak havoc on anyone’s emotional well-being.
The baby is adjusting to life outside the womb. The womb was warm, dark, and supplied all the baby’s nutrients and met her needs. But the outside world can be a loud, bright, cold, and scary place. Food doesn’t come automatically, and sleep is hard to come by. And who are all of these people? Why is it so loud?
Being gentle and respectful of the baby is an absolute must. Not to mention, if the birth was difficult, the baby may still be recovering as well.
Understandably, babies feel safest when cuddled up against their mom’s chest. They crave the warmth of their mom’s skin, her familiar smell, and the feeling of her heartbeat against their little bodies. Newborns often just need that peace and quiet, held in their safe spot on mommy’s chest to feel completely at ease.
Or they may want to nurse, a lot, even just for comfort.
Dad is going through a lot. Dads can struggle, too, and their needs are often set aside as they’re automatically placed into the role of support helper for mom and baby. It’s easy to forget about the dad when all the focus is on the mom and baby, but he’s probably going through a lot as well. A simple acknowledgment of his efforts would probably go a long way.
Older siblings need acknowledgment. If the baby has older siblings, they will also have a new role in their family — and they may not exactly be excited about it. Sensitivity should be taken to protect their emotions, too.
For example, you should always greet an older sibling before acknowledging the baby. And if you bring a gift for the baby, it’s nice to bring something for their older sibling(s) too. A book or small toy would probably go a long way in making them feel special and seen, too.
Overall, the family is going through a major life change. There are sleepless nights and early wakeups, new routines, and not enough time to do the dishes or even think about self-care. Taking care of a baby is hard work. Having this new responsibility 24/7 is a lot for anyone to take on.
Not to mention, the parents are getting less quality time together and may be adjusting to changes in their relationship, too.
So no matter what it looks like on the outside or on social media, it’s somewhat of a roller coaster ride. One that’s filled with lots of love and cuddles but also great challenges and lots of change, too.
Your job, as a beloved friend or family member, is to honor what they’re going through with your understanding, patience, and respect.
Tips for Planning Your Visit
Now that we’ve covered the most important rules for visiting a baby, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when planning your visit.
- Don’t assume that anyone (at all) is welcome to visit at the hospital. Most women don’t want to have visitors until they get home. Remember, the mom is drained, exhausted, and physically recovering from birth. So please don’t assume that anyone (at all) is invited to see the baby in the hospital, including close family. I surveyed my readers and only 11% of new moms were comfortable welcoming all friends and family that wanted to visit them at the hospital, while the rest either wanted no visitors at all (25%) or only a few select people they are really close with visiting them at the hospital (64%). (And if they had a home birth, please give them lots of extra time to accept visitors.)
- When is it OK to visit a newborn? Every family will have different preferences for when they will accept visitors. Give the family as much space as they need, and please don’t take it personally if you aren’t invited over right away. Some choose to cocoon the baby for 40 days and not have any visitors or leave the house very much. Others may accept all visitors while some may have a select list of people whose help they need. Some just want to be at home with the baby for the first few days before inviting anyone to meet the baby. I like to phrase it this way: “We are so eager to meet the baby! Please let us know when you are ready to have visitors.” If you’re a close family member, the conversation may be a little different, but be sure to give the new parents room and give them the option to suggest when you might come for a visit.
- Always call before you visit. Never assume that you can drop by unannounced, even if the family had an open door policy before the baby was born. The newborn phase can be difficult and you just don’t know how the mom and baby are doing that day, so it’s a lot of pressure to put on them. When you do call, text, or email them, be extra patient. It may take a lot longer than usual for them to respond.
- Honor the baby’s naptime and bedtime. Be flexible around the time of day you visit and realize that if the baby is sleeping when you arrive, the parents won’t wake the baby for your visit. Baby sleep is precious and hard to come by and that’s why you never wake a sleeping baby to greet guests. Instead, you should expect to meet the baby after she wakes from her nap.
- Check before you bring anyone along with you. Be sure to ask the parents who you can bring with you to meet the baby. If you just started dating someone, for example, or are spending time with a friend that day, you should not bring them to meet the baby. Also, do not bring young children to visit a newborn unless the family specifically invites them over. Children, especially preschool and elementary age children, often carry many germs and don’t know how to practice good hygiene around a newborn. And newborns shouldn’t be exposed to germs because they don’t have much of an immune system yet. This is why it’s safest to leave the kids at home. Never, ever bring a child who has been sick or been around someone who is sick.
- If possible, bring food when you visit. It’s not necessary or expected, but it’s always appreciated to bring some food. Most people bring dinners but you might want to bring some homemade muffins or bagels and cream cheese from their favorite shop. (But be sure to ask if the family has any dietary restrictions. A lot of breastfeeding moms avoid dairy and soy, for example.) Anything would be appreciated, and it is a very kind gesture. I know I appreciated when friends brought my family dinner or meals.
- Find ways to be helpful while you’re visiting. If you can offer to help the parents with something — anything — please do. Whether that means unloading the dishwasher, doing a load of laundry, taking the dog out, or picking something up from the grocery store, it can be a huge help. (Some parents will accept all offerings, and some might say no thank you. Don’t be offended if they don’t accept help – it’s not personal.) I felt grateful when someone made me a cup of hot tea while I nursed for hours on end. My heart was humbled when someone did my dishes or read to my older son. These are the gestures you don’t forget.
- Be extra considerate and don’t overstay your welcome. Similarly, be sure that you don’t impose on the parents during your visit. Don’t expect the visit to be centered around your needs. Pick up after yourself and make sure to help out as much as you can. Don’t stay too long, either. The baby probably has a ridiculously early bedtime (6 p.m. isn’t uncommon) and they’re exhausted, too. If the mom has to breastfeed the baby, that’s probably a good cue for you to leave, since it may take as long as 30 minutes (or more). And if you are invited to stay with the family, assume that your visit is solely for the purpose of helping out and spending quality time with the family — not for your own entertainment and tourism. Don’t ask them to drive you places or take you sightseeing. Help around the house and with caring for the baby.
This is the Newborn Nine list of important rules for visiting a newborn baby. I hope this list was eye-opening and helped you to navigate the process of visiting the new special baby in your life. Since I can’t quite cover every possible situation that might come up, I would leave you with the following gut-check rule:
When in doubt, always do what is best for the baby.
So what do you think of this list of rules? Let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree with me!
- Oxford Academic: Thirdhand Smoke Causes DNA Damage in Human Cells
- Phthalate Exposure and Children's Health
- MadeSafe Chemical Callout: Phthalates
- WebMD: Herpes Simplex (HSV-1 & HSV-2)
- World Health Organization: Newsroom: Globally an estimated two-thirds of the population under 50 are infected with herpes simplex type 1
- WebMD: Can a newborn contract meningitis from a kiss?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): RSV Transmission and Prevention
- NPR: Do Parents Invade Their Children's Privacy When They Post Photos Online?
- Hackernoon: Your Digital Photos Can Reveal Information About You
- Time Magazine: Your Cell Phone is 10x Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat
- Kids Health: Hand Washing - Why It's So Important
- Mayo Clinic: Hand-Washing Do's and Don'ts
- The Gottman Institute: Parenting