Health and Safety, Birth to 2 Years (cont.)
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Healthy Habits for Preventing Infection and Illness
The immune systems of babies and young children up to 24 months of age are still developing. This makes them especially prone to getting sick after being exposed to viruses and bacteria. Exposure to common pathogens can occur from person-to-person contact and from improperly prepared food. Good hygiene practices can help you protect your child from exposure to these germs.
Safe food preparation
You can help protect your child from getting sick by paying attention to safe food practices.
- Prepare food safely. Help reduce the chance that your child will become ill from food poisoning. Wash your hands, keep kitchen areas clean, and prepare foods properly.
- Shop safely. Raw meats, seafood, and eggs can contaminate other foods they touch. Keep these items wrapped in plastic and away from fresh foods in your shopping cart. Look closely at all items, and don't buy those that have signs of spoilage or damage.
- Cook foods safely. Foods that have been in contact with raw meat need to be cooked thoroughly to prevent the growth of bacteria. The specific temperature varies by type of food.
- Store foods safely. Keep food temperatures at safe levels to prevent bacterial growth that can cause illness. Also take special care when storing breast milk or formula for bottle-feedings. Bacteria grow quickly in warm breast milk or formula that is left at room temperature. After bottle-feeding your baby, immediately discard the milk or formula that is left in the bottle. Promptly refrigerate fresh breast milk or formula if it is not needed right away. Also, clean and disinfect all bottles before each use.
- Follow labels on food packaging. Look for expiration dates on perishable foods before you buy or eat them. Also, follow any cooking guidelines provided, such as temperature and cooking time.
- Do your best to choose restaurants that handle food safely.
For more information, see the topic Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling.
Protect against the spread of illness and germs
Germs spread easily from person to person. Cold and flu viruses usually affect the most people during the colder months, although they can develop at any time of the year. Babies and young children have a higher risk for secondary infections from these illnesses. Take extra care to help protect your child against infections.
- Get your child immunized. Immunizations, also called vaccinations, help protect your child from diseases. Immunizations start at birth and are scheduled into adulthood. For more information, see the topic Immunizations.
- Be aware of the higher risk of germs in public areas. Avoid exposing your child to a large crowd if he or she has been ill recently or has an otherwise weakened immune system, especially when a contagious illness is going around. Also, it may help to have disposable wipes and a hand sanitizer available to clean hands and to wipe off shopping carts or other shared items in public places.
- Avoid close contact with others who are obviously sick. If your child is ill, avoid contact with other children until the contagious period is over. Talk to your doctor if you are not sure about how long your child is likely to be contagious.
- Wash hands frequently, including after every diaper change. Keeping your hands clean is an obvious, but often overlooked, way to prevent the spread of germs. Also wash your baby's hands after he or she has a bowel movement, because a baby can touch his or her messy bottom without your being aware of it.
- Wash and disinfect surfaces and toys. Areas where germs collect, such as the kitchen and bathroom, also should be kept clean and frequently disinfected.
- Teach good hygiene habits early, especially if your child is frequently around many children, such as at day care. For example, teach your child to cover his or her mouth when coughing or sneezing, preferably using a tissue so germs do not get on the hands. Also show your child how to wipe his or her nose with tissues. Babies and young children may not understand your instructions, but repetition will help them remember these concepts as they grow.
Visit the doctor regularly
Go to all well-child visits, during which the doctor gives your child a physical exam. The doctor will ask you about your child's development and whether you have any concerns.
Immunizations are also given at well-child visits. Immunizations provide important protection for your child against harmful diseases. The standard immunization schedule outlines the recommended vaccinations and the ages at which they should be given.