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Germs in the Nursery - How to protect your baby

Dr. Tanner hard at work
Dr. Tanner hard at work
Antimicrobial Test Laboratories, LLC

From the moment you announce your new bundle of joy, friends you forgot about and family members you never knew about come out of the proverbial woodwork to ask for a squeeze from your child. It is always difficult to tell loving admirers they cannot hold your baby, but it is even harder to know whether you should. There are studies that say to keep your baby away from people outside of your immediate family until he has received all of the necessary vaccinations. There are other studies that say he should be exposed to germs from day one of life to help build a strong immune system. What is a new parent to do?

Many of the germy dangers new parents fear are not in the hands of strangers -- germs are much closer to home. Dr. Benjamin Tanner, Ph.D., president of Antimicrobial Test Laboratories, LLC, is well acquainted with the germy nature of a baby's room and has some great advice for how to maintain a healthy and germ-free nursery in just ten simple steps.

1. Identify the germ "hot spots" within your nursery and clean them often
Germ hot spots are the areas that come in contact with waste in diapers and with other body fluids, either directly or indirectly. Diaper waste--and the millions of germs in it--can be spread by hands and objects that come in contact with it. Since germs are microscopic and invisible to the naked eye, it is easy to spread many of them to clean surfaces without knowing it. Areas where most bacteria typically gather include:
- Changing Table. Dr Tanner says, "This is the place where diaper messes and germs are transferred from the diaper to baby's skin - and possibly [a parent's] hands. And a dirty diaper likely has more germs inside it than anything else in the nursery." Also keep in mind - that adorable changing pad cover is soiled as soon as any diaper waste comes into contact with it. It may look clean after a spot cleaning, but parents should wash the covers each time the cover comes in contact with waste. Buy extras and keep them handy.
- Laundry Hamper. Dr. Tanner tells The Examiner that studies show that laundry can hold onto a lot of bacteria and spread those bacteria to clean clothing in a normal wash cycle. This is especially true if the laundry has come in contact with bodily fluids.
- Floor. Parents often think of floors as dirty because they walk all over them, but they tend to forget about that fact when their baby finds the floor the place to play. Dr. Tanner notes that "most floor germs aren't of the harmful type, but it's still a hot spot to keep an eye on."
- Toys/Toy chest. While most toys are not covered in germs, toys that come into contact with playmates are an easy way to transmit germs to a child.

2. Learn the difference between cleaners and disinfectants, and which is appropriate for your nursery
Cleaners remove most soils, but may also distribute germs as you wipe. When used according to the instructions, disinfectants kill the germs in the soils. Dr. Tanner suggests wiping off the cleaned surface with a wet cloth or paper towel to get rid of any residual chemicals. Remember to keep babies away from the cleaning zone to protect them from the inhalants and skin-irritating chemicals. Dr. Tanner also recommends routinely disinfecting hard floors and vacuuming carpets to keep germ levels low.
Thanks to Dr. Tanner, it is easy to tell the difference between disinfectants and cleaners - disinfectants say "disinfects," "antibacterial" or "sanitizes" on the label.

3. Set aside a special place in the nursery for disinfectants so they're readily available for quick cleaning but safely out of reach of children
Cleaners and disinfectants are dangerous to children, even those labeled "non-toxic." Keep all cleaning products on a high shelf in the closet or a child-proofed drawer of a dresser or cabinet. Example: Method non-toxic cleaner contains potassium hydrate.

4. Keep messes (and germs) to a minimum when changing dirty diapers in the nursery
Your little one probably wiggles the second you put him down for a diaper change, but try to keep the routine as quick and mess-free as possible. Keep diapers and wipes handy (this is important for immediate safety reasons, too) and create a dedicated changing area that can be easily cleaned and disinfected. Dr. Tanner recommends the Diaper Genie II Elite¥ Disposal System for diaper disposal.

5. Keep soap and warm water, or where soap and water are not available, antibacterial hand wipes, nearby to use after changing your baby in the nursery
Dr. Tanner's cleaning tip - When soap and water are not available, consider using an antibacterial hand wipe, such as Wet Ones® Antibacterial Hands and Face Wipes. Wet Ones Antibacterial Hands and Face Wipes are clinically proven to be just as effective as gel hand sanitizers in killing 99.99 percent of germs, and also clean away dirt and messes.

6. Keep baby bottles away from germ hot spots, such as the changing table, and only handle them when your hands are clean
Bacteria can grow in formula, breast milk, bottles, and nipples. Dr. Tanner reminds parents to be sure to keep bottles clean and dry when not in use. For more information, click here.

7. Keep a special hamper inside the nursery to use specifically for heavily soiled baby laundry
Designating a hamper for soiled laundry will help prevent bacteria on heavily soiled laundry from spreading throughout the rest of the nursery. No room for two hampers? Place the soiled clothing in a wash basin and pretreat it. (Pretreating will keep the stain from setting, too!) When laundering heavily soiled baby clothing and bedding to prevent the spread of germs through the laundry. Dr. Tanner recommends using hot water and/or chlorine bleach in the washing machine and the hot cycle in the dryer. Of course, nearly all baby clothes have cleaning instructions of "cold water, delicate cycle, tumble dry low." What is a parent to do? Dr. Tanner states, "A common misconception people have is that detergents kill germs… but detergents don't usually kill germs by themselves. Washing clothes on a normal wash setting is okay when they're slightly soiled, because most germs will simply go down the drain. Even if they do remain on clothing they'll likely be present at sub-infective levels. Increasing the temperature of the wash cycle kills the germs that don't go down the drain, as does a hot dryer cycle. Heavily soiled laundry (especially if soiled with fecal matter) is much different because the quantities of germs on the clothes will be much greater."

8. Take special precautions within the nursery when baby is sick to prevent spread of illness to other children and throughout the rest of the nursery
When a baby is sick, parents should disinfect the nursery "hot spots" more frequently and reduce the time other children spend both in the nursery and with the ill baby.

9. Take special precautions in the nursery when you or other family members are sick, to keep from giving your infection to baby and spreading throughout the nursery
To keep from having to follow the instructions in Tip #8, ask other family members (and those doting visitors) to cover all coughs and sneezes and to wash their hands both before contact with the baby and when entering the nursery.

10. Reduce pet access to the nursery
Dr. Tanner tells The Examiner that reptiles and birds frequently harbor dangerous germs, like Salmonella. It is, therefore, important that children wash their hands well with soap and warm water after handling reptiles and before coming into the nursery. He also recommends that parents completely keep bird bedding/litter out of the nursery. He notes that, while dogs and cats are less risky, they may still carry some harmful bacteria. If a furbaby makes a mess on the carpet, parents should spray the area with a non-bleach disinfectant after cleanup to prevent those germs from spreading to baby during playtime.

Dr. Tanner's advice may contribute to confusion for parents who have heard that they should expose their children to germs and that antibacterial products are creating drug-resistant strains of bacteria. Dr. Tanner understands those concerns, but states, "Current evidence suggests that children with greater exposure to germs, such as from living on a farm, tend to have lower rates of asthma and allergies later in life. Unfortunately, this has led many people to jump to the incorrect conclusion that more exposure to germs means less chance of infection later in life. Since most of the immunity a person develops over their lifetime comes from sub-symptomatic (not obvious) infections by microbes, there's really nothing lost by a parent helping a child to avoid a serious, symptom-producing infection… Another way to think about it is that generally speaking, exposure to one kind of disease-causing germ doesn't confer protection against a different disease causing microbe." He goes on to say, "[A] number of studies have been conducted since then with the express purpose of demonstrating the effect (of antibiotics reducing the ability to respond to future treatments) in ‘real life' and none have done so. Thus, the issue is largely unfounded at this time, though it should be noted that we're fairly early into the relationship between microbes and consumer antimicrobials."

For more information about keeping a baby's room germ-free and Dr. Tanner's great work, please visit