Newborn hygiene is crucial for their health and well-being. Good hygiene practices, such as regular handwashing, proper diaper changing, and cleaning of feeding equipment, not only help prevent infections and diseases, but it also minimises the risk of common ailments and discomfort, promoting a healthier start to life. In addition, newborns are particularly vulnerable to certain complications, such as umbilical cord infections and diaper rashes, which is when practising proper hygiene can significantly reduce the risk.
In this article, Bengaluru-based paediatrician and vaccination specialist Dr Sayed Mujahid Husain (Dr Hifive for Instagrammers), shares the importance of newborn hygiene and also shares some practical tips for parents.
Newborn mortality refers to the death of infants within the first 28 days of life. The first month of life is therefore the most vulnerable period for child survival. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 20.4 lakh newborns died in 2020, of which nearly half (47%) of all under-5 deaths occurred in the newborn period (the first 28 days of life).
Several factors contribute to newborn mortality, including preterm birth, low birth weight, birth complications, infections, and inadequate access to quality healthcare. The WHO suggests preterm birth, childbirth-related complications, for instance birth asphyxia or lack of breathing at birth, infections and birth defects caused most neonatal deaths in 2019. "From the end of the neonatal period and through the first 5 years of life, the main causes of death are pneumonia, diarrhoea, birth defects and malaria. Malnutrition is the underlying contributing factor, making children even more vulnerable to severe diseases," the WHO added.
A study published in the American Society for Microbiology Infection and Immunity, neonates, also known as newborns, are highly susceptible to infection by a wide range of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi. The heightened susceptibility and the severe course of infections in early life can be attributed, at least in part, to the lack of preexisting immunological memory and competent adaptive immunity, the study highlighted.
Efforts to reduce newborn mortality focus on improving maternal and newborn health, ensuring skilled birth attendants, promoting breastfeeding, preventing and managing infections, and enhancing access to essential healthcare services. In addition, maintaining hygiene standards during pregnancy, delivery, and postnatal care is essential to protect the health and well-being of newborns and reduce the risk of mortality.
Importance Of Maintaining Hygiene While Handling Newborn Babies
Dr Husain emphasises on the need to follow rigorous hygienic practices not just after the birth of the baby, but even during the delivery. “During the delivery of the baby, we have to follow clean environmental policies. We have to have clean linen, scissors, and tables, because the risk of contamination is very high,” he said. According to the doctor, the people handling the baby, especially the assistants, gynaecologist, even the nursing staff, must maintain a strict sanitisation protocol.
Dr Husain discusses the risk of predation infections, which refers to infections that can be transmitted to the neonate from the mother during pregnancy, during labour, or shortly after birth. “In places where hygienic practices are not followed, babies can succumb to major infections like pneumonia, asphyxia, umbilical cord infection and more,” he said, adding that mortality can be very well controlled by healthy and hygienic practices.
Basic Hygiene Essentials
Some of the most essential newborn hygiene practices include:
Umbilical cord care: Keep the area around the umbilical cord stump clean and dry. Cleanse it with warm water and mild soap, and gently pat it dry. Avoid covering the stump with tight clothing or diapers to allow air circulation and prevent infection.
Diaper changing: Change diapers frequently to maintain cleanliness and prevent diaper rash. Clean the diaper area gently with water, mild wipes, or a gentle cleanser, and pat it dry before putting on a fresh diaper. Use diaper creams or ointments if necessary.
Hand hygiene: Caregivers should wash their hands with soap and clean water before handling the newborn, especially before feeding, changing diapers, or touching the baby's face. Handwashing helps prevent the spread of germs and infections.
Bathing: Sponge bathe the newborn until the umbilical cord stump falls off and the circumcision site (if applicable) heals. Use warm water and a mild, baby-safe cleanser to clean the baby's body. Gently pat the skin dry after bathing.
Clothing and bedding: Dress the newborn in clean, comfortable clothing made of soft fabrics. Use clean bedding and change it regularly. Wash clothes, blankets, and bedding using mild detergents suitable for babies.
Breastfeeding and bottle feeding hygiene: If breastfeeding, ensure proper hygiene by washing hands before breastfeeding and cleaning the nipples. If bottle feeding, sterilise bottles, nipples, and other feeding equipment before each use.
Environmental cleanliness: Maintain a clean and safe environment for the newborn. Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces, toys, and equipment that come into contact with the baby.
Infant Feeding And Hygiene
Breastfeeding is the one of the most efficient ways to protect babies against some short and long-term illnesses and diseases, according to the US Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The US Health agency further suggested that breastfed babies are at a lower risk of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life.
Dr Husain said, "When it comes to feeding a baby, especially breastfed, the mother must first wash her hand and clean and sterilise her breast. Basically, wash and pat dry the breast. The mother should also ensure that the clothes she is wearing are also washed and cleaned." "In case the baby is formula-fed, the bottle should be well-sterilised," he added.
As per the CDC, powdered infant formula is less likely to become contaminated if it stays dry, further recommending that one avoid using liquid cleaners on infant formula containers to help prevent contaminating powdered formula inside the container. One can use a disinfectant wipe or paper towel sprayed with disinfectant to clean the outside of the container and lid before it is opened for the first time. "Do not submerge the container or place it under running water. Wait until the surfaces are completely dry before opening the container. Do not clean the inside of the infant formula container," the CDC recommends.
Newborns are extremely vulnerable especially in the first month of life. Parents and caregivers must follow essential hygiene protocols to reduce an infant’s risk of infections and life-threatening complications. Make it a priority to consult a paediatrician in case of any doubt or if you need guidance.