Babies are a lot of things (Cute! Funny! Snuggly!), but hygienic isn't one of them. They can't wash their hands or clean themselves, they put their mouths on literally everything, and they have no concept of any five second rule. Basically, everything they touch is going to get full of germs fast — and it's your job to keep everything clean. While some items will be OK for a bit, certain baby items should be disinfected on a regular basis — as in a few times a week or even every day.
Between the end of cold and flu season and the coronavirus pandemic, this is especially important right now. In an email interview, Florida-based pediatrician Dr. Gary Kramer explains to Romper exactly why: "Although germs have a finite survival time on inanimate surfaces, it is important to routinely clean things. Most respiratory infections are spread through respiratory droplets, and as such are transmitted via coughing, sneezing, and exchanges of oral and nasal secretions." Basically, you could infect something without even realizing it, whether your baby has dropped it or not.
Aside from regularly cleaning baby items, you should focus on washing their hands and washing your own hands throughout the day (and don't feel awkward asking anyone who holds your baby to wash their hands too). "Most gastrointestinal infections are spread via fecal-oral transmission, and thus minimizing exchange of saliva and engaging in hand hygiene are especially important," explains Dr. Kramer.
That said, you shouldn't stress over this too much. "I always encourage patients to be cautious, not paranoid," says Dr. Kramer. "There are enough things that we cannot control, so at least we should make an effort to control the things within our reach." Basically, you'll never be able to keep every single itty bitty germ and bacteria away from your little one, but you can definitely do your best to keep their closest possessions as sparkling clean as possible. Here are the items you should definitely focus on:
1. Bottles & All Bottle Accessories Should Be Disinfected
Baby bottles and all bottle accessories (nipples, rings, and caps) should be cleaned after every single use, no exceptions, according to the CDC. The CDC also recommends throwing away unfinished formula if the baby has not drank it all within two hours because of how quickly germs can grow if you add breast milk or formula to a partially used bottle.
As for sanitizing bottles, the CDC says this should be done daily for babies who are less than 3 months old, born prematurely, or have a weakened immune system. Daily sanitizing is not necessary for older, healthy babies as long as the items are thoroughly cleaned after each use, although you can feel free to sanitize them once a week or so if you'd like.
How to clean them: Simply rinsing out a bottle or rinsing off the accessories isn't going to do much here. The CDC recommends washing thoroughly with warm water and soap with your hands, or putting them in a dishwasher if they are dishwasher safe.
2. Pacifiers Should Be Disinfected For Babies
Dr. Kramer says, "Whether in response to an imminent epidemic such as coronavirus or in the course of normal daily hygiene, certain baby items should be regularly sanitized and disinfected." This includes any item "that comes in contact with saliva and nasal secretions," and pacifiers are a prime example of that.
How to clean them: You should clean a pacifier with warm, soapy water a few times a day, like every time a baby drops it on the ground, which happens more often than not. You can put dishwasher-safe pacifiers in the dishwasher sometimes, and if it makes you feel more comfortable, sterilize them in boiling water or a sterilizer once a week.
3. High Chair Trays Should Be Cleaned After Every Use
It's easy to feed your little one, then scoop them up, clean them off, and walk away, forgetting entirely about the dirty high chair you've left behind. But in an email interview with Romper, Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, pediatrician of Your Doctors Online, urges parents to regularly clean these trays. Dr. Cecchini explains, "It is important to regularly clean high chair trays, since these are prone to germs given their exposure to foods at mealtime."
How to clean them: "Many trays can easily be removed and you can wash them with warm soapy water to sanitize," says Dr. Cecchini. "You can also clean with an anti-bacterial wipe." Do this after each use.
4. Changing Pads Should Be Cleaned Daily
Between dirty diapers and your baby's behind, changing pads get filthy pretty quickly. They should probably be cleaned after each changing, even if it's just a quick swipe of an anti-bacterial wipe. If the changing pad is stained, give it a more thorough cleaning.
How to clean them: You can use an anti-bacterial wipe for quick clean-ups. For more thorough ones, clean with warm, soapy water.
5. Bath Toys Should Be Cleaned Often For Babies
You may not think you need to clean bath toys all the time since they're always in warm, soapy water with the baby, but Dr. Cecchini says they definitely should be. "Bath toys tend to accumulate a significant amount of germs."
How to clean them: Soak them in warm, soapy water after the bath. If they're dishwasher-safe, throw them in there once in a while.
6. Everyday Toys Can Be Cleaned Once A Week
You don't need to get too intense about cleaning your baby's toys every single day. Just give them a nice cleaning about once a week. "Everyday toys can be cleaned weekly or more frequently if children are ill or if multiple children play with them during playdates," says Dr. Cecchini.
How to clean: "Toys that aren't wooden can be soaked in soapy water to disinfect them or tossed Into the dishwasher," says Dr. Cecchini.
7. Teething Toys Should Be Cleaned Frequently
"Baby items that come in contact with the mouth — like rattles, pacifiers, and teether toys — are some of the most important for parents to clean frequently, especially during cold and flu season," explains Whitney Casares, MD and author of The New Baby Blueprint: Preparing to Care for You and Your Little One. "With the recent COVID-19 outbreak, parents should continue cleaning their baby’s playthings when they’re soiled from regular use or if they’re contaminated by another child’s mouth or nose secretions."
How to clean: The same way you would clean any other toy: soaking in warm, soapy water or throwing in the dishwasher. For wooden teethers, check out the instructions specifically for that item.
8. Your Diaper Bag Should Be Wiped Down Often
You stuff your diaper bag with baby stuff every single day: toys that have been on the floor, teethers and pacifiers that have been in their mouths, diaper supplies, feeding items, and so much more. You should be cleaning out the inside of the back on a weekly basis to be on the safe side — plus, it helps keep you more organized.
How to clean: If the inside of your bag is resistant, it's probably easy to clean with a few swipes of an anti-bacterial wipe. Otherwise, look at the specific instructions for your bag. Some can be thrown in the washing machine.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.
Dr. Gary Kramer, pediatrician
Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, pediatrician
Whitney Casares, MD and author of The New Baby Blueprint: Preparing to Care for You and Your Little One