Beware of new parent panic
Question: Can first-time parents be over-cautious?
Answer: Yes, says Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts. Of course some issues and conditions need to be taken seriously and parents need to trust their instincts, but remember that a bit of dirt never hurt anybody.
After your baby has arrived, there’s generally just enough time to wallow in a rosy glow of post-delivery relief and bliss before an attack of new parent panic sets in. Every first-time mum or dad is prone to it: granny has a cold — so keep her away from the baby. Is that nappy rash, or something more sinister? And — oh my God! — the soother has fallen on the floor. Re-sterilise it, quick… or throw it away altogether.
Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet, is co-author (with Natasha Joffe) of the parenting book Why Did Nobody Tell Me?, which, among other things, tries to put children’s health and safety into perspective.
Yes, be sensible, write Justine and Natasha. Keep your vomiting and diarrhoea-stricken child away from playgroup, for instance, and confine your chicken pox-infected child to home; but don’t sweat the small stuff. For instance, unless your child has immune issues, “you should not wipe all the toys at playgroup/in your home with antibacterial wipes… or refuse to go to softplay because of germs.”
In fact, exposure to germs can be healthy – if that’s not a contradiction in terms. “Scientific evidence suggests that the antibacterial approach can make immune systems less resilient,” says Justine. “And the more colds you have in the first couple of years, the stronger it makes you.”
So what do people on the Mumsnet forums say about ‘chicken pox parties’? Where parents let their child mingle with an infectious toddler in the hope that he or she will catch it too — and so ‘get it out of the way’?
“Well, you don’t want your child to get chicken pox too early,” says Justine. “Not in the baby stage at least because it can be very debilitating. But it is better taken care of in the toddler years than later on in life. From a practical point of view, it’s understandable why parents take (the pox party) option.”
The good news, says Justine, is that as time goes on — and/or the more children you have — the more relaxed you feel about these issues. You realise you don’t need to bath your child every day (“although it is a good bedtime routine”) or sterilise everything in your house. In short, weigh up the risks, let your kids fall over and don’t fret if they eat dirt. “No one will ever feel bad about pestering the GP if their child is unwell,” says Justine, “but try not to not be over-anxious and see every encounter as potentially dangerous.”