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Keeping Baby Away From A Sick Sibling Isn't Always The Answer, Doctors Say

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Having big kids and a baby at the same time is a balancing act — especially during cold and flu season when older kids are exposed to heaps of germs at school. You want to keep your baby safe, but should you quarantine your baby from your germ-ridden kids? Is there a better way to protect your baby from illness?

When one kid in your home gets sick, it is nearly inevitable that your entire family will experience a wave of sniffling, coughing, and general ickiness. Babies are especially vulnerable to germs, and your gut instinct might be to keep them away from your big kids by quarantining them away from those germy school-aged kiddos. While this could help prevent the spread of sickness, it is not a fail-safe solution, according to pediatricians.

"It's impossible to completely prevent the youngest siblings from catching an illness, even with our best intentions," Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Overland Park, Kansas tells Romper. "I remind my families that the youngest child is always going to be the 'sickest' due to the hugs and kisses that are bound to come from older siblings."

That probably sounds like absolutely awful news to anyone with a baby at home, but there are ways to make sure your kids spread the least amount of germs possible. Even if your big kids aren't sick (yet), they can still drag germs home from school or basketball practice that your baby may be especially susceptible to. Since it is nearly impossible to keep your baby and your older kids 100% separate, doctors recommend taking extra precautions with your older children in order to prevent the spread of these germs.

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"Especially when babies are at home, I do recommend that kids come home from school and at minimum wash their hands and change into 'play clothes' at home. This helps to decrease the spread of germs on hands and clothes that come home from school," Burgert says. "Some of my families change the night routine to include bath/shower time after school instead of right before bedtime to accomplish this goal."

I reached out to pediatrician and parenting expert Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg for her suggestions on keeping babies away from germy older kids. Dr. Jen, who also serves as a SpokesDoctor for the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that in addition to following precautions like hand washing and changing clothes after school to keep your older children from spreading too many germs, all children over the age of 6 months should receive a flu vaccine in order to protect themselves and babies in the home who may not be old enough for the flu shot.

But is an all-out quarantine ever necessary? "For newborns (under 3 months of age), it’s best to really keep sick or potential sick contacts away from baby. This is because newborns are more susceptible to getting sick and for more severe complications as their immune system is still developing," Dr. Jen tells Romper. "Whenever possible, it’s best to keep an older sibling with the flu for example away from baby as these germs are mainly spread by coughing, sneezing, or droplets that landed on hard surfaces where the germs live longer. Because young newborns are not mobile, it may be easiest to keep baby quarantined in nursery or their parents' bedroom away from sick contacts. If a sick child is older, they may just want to stay in their own room away from baby."

Additionally, she recommends disinfecting surfaces in your home that multiple kids may come into contact with. "Disinfectant sprays or wipes can be used on high-use surfaces such as phones and remotes, and always make sure to wash your own hands when going from sick child to the baby," Dr. Jen tells Romper. So it's a good idea to stock up on soap and disinfectant well before anyone gets sick.

"As a general rule of thumb, kids are considered contagious until 24 hours fever-free. Keeping kids separated does help stop some of the continued spread of illness through a family," Burgert says. "Keep in mind, however, any person can be contagious with many illnesses before they start to appear sick. So, this 'quarantine' is never perfect. Plus, many home arrangements make this process impossible. Common sense rules always apply."

Experts:

Dr. Natasha Burgert, MD, FAAP, pediatrician in Overland Park, KS who writes at KCKidsDoc.com

Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, pediatrician and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai