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Hands off: New dad goes on a sanitation rampage

Kelly Coffey
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyKelly Coffey
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Since taking my newborn home from the hospital, I’m finding I wash my hands like Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets.” In the maternity ward, I couldn’t turn around without running into a sign that said, “Wash hands before handling baby.”

I got constant reminders from nurses and doctors to scrub up. I can’t open a parenting magazine without being warned of the dangers of spreading germs to my infant. It’s a wonder I didn’t take her home from the hospital in a plastic hamster ball.

All this washing and scrubbing seems a little over the top, even for a novice dad. But I’m also not willing to risk a thing. I see every person walking down the street as a moving cesspool.



I can’t keep this up ” I’m way over-budget on my monthly Purell hand-sanitizer allotment. At what point will my baby’s immune system be strong enough to expose her to crowds and everyday dirty hands?

“A very young infant is more susceptible to infection because his immune system is still relatively immature, and he hasn’t had a chance to build up immunities,” wrote Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg and Sandee Hathaway in their uber-popular parenting manual, “What to Expect the First Year.” Hence, all the “wash hands” signs in the maternity ward.



But the only way my daughter will build up her immune system is by being exposed to different germs. It’s a little catch-22. Whenever she spits her pacifier onto the floor, I’m torn between rinsing it off with soap and hot water and just popping it back into her mouth.

I’m finding, as time goes by, I’m more likely to pop it back into her mouth … unless it rolls under the couch with the dust bunnies or something (I’ll save that for the second child). And the “What to Expect” ladies agree: “Loosen up a little, and let the germs fall where they may after the first six to eight weeks.”

To prevent strangers from spreading germs onto his newborn daughter, Mark Raymond of, Eagle-Vail, went as far as pinning a note onto her clothes: “If you want to meet me, please wash hands first.”



Raymond’s daughter contracted rotavirus at three weeks, which sent Raymond and his wife into super-disinfectant mode. Rotavirus, a common illness in babies, causes diarrhea, vomiting and fever. It is usually spread through contaminated hands or objects.

Raymond found that he and his wife became very choosy on which social events they attended, knowing that people would want to touch the baby. Even now, when they do go out, Raymond habitually keeps mental track of who touches her and on what part of her body.

“I don’t want to be rude and offend anybody, but I also want to tell them to touch parts of her that are clothed,” he said.

I’d think Raymond was a little nuts, except that I do the same thing. At a recent dinner, I felt like I was a Vegas card counter as my baby got passed from one set of adoring arms to another. This person touched her leg. This person grabbed her hand. This person rubbed her belly.

Now that Raymond has five months of fatherhood under his belt, he’s relaxing his defenses … slightly. “You become aware of what are higher risks than others,” he said. For instance, while camping, Raymond was less concerned about his daughter contacting dirt than sunscreen and bug spray from the hands of other admiring campers.

“I hope that someday I can be completely mellow about it,” Raymond said. “It hasn’t happened yet.”

Kelly Coffey is a novice father. He shares his mistakes and fears and laughs along his journey to figure out how anybody could possibly raise a child. E-mail comments or questions about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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