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Hands Off

Nicer ways to say, “Stop touching my baby.”

Grandpas who squeeze babies’ cheeks mean well. So do kids who love to touch tiny baby fingers. But few things make a new mom squirm like unwashed hands. We asked Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and co-author of the 18th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, how to handle a variety of real-life germy scenarios, with grace.

A stranger in the supermarket checkout line sticks her finger out for your baby to grab. You have no idea where that finger has been.
“Jump right in, grab your baby’s hand yourself so it’s occupied, and say, ‘Oh, sorry, she’s really susceptible to germs right now.’ The stranger is trying to be kind, so a ‘sorry’ is nice here.”

The owner of your favorite pizza place, who shakes customers hands all day long, always tries to stroke your baby’s cheek.
“This is a tough one. You can try to make it about you, not how germy he is, by saying something like, ‘We’re trying to minimize germs right now.’ But it will be mildly offensive to him. So if it really is your favorite pizza place, you might want to just bring baby wipes to clean your baby’s face after—or skip bringing the baby until he’s a bit older.”

Your devoted housekeeper would love to “kiss those sweet baby lips all day long” if you let her.
“You need to have a conversation about this, because she will be in your home often. Start by rewarding her instinct to be affectionate, saying, ‘You’re a natural with kids!’ Then laugh at yourself a bit and say, ‘I’m a new mom and I’m protective. We’re encouraging people to do cuddles, but not kisses.’”

Your neighbor’s 5-year-old loves to love your baby, but his “laid-back” mom doesn’t remind him to wash up beforehand or tell him not to touch the baby’s face or hands.
“Say to the child, ‘Jimmy, I’d love to have you touch her feet. Let’s go wash our hands together first.’ If the mom says washing hands isn’t necessary, be firm and say, ‘I’d really feel better if we washed up first.’”

You run into a friend on the street. She reaches to grab your baby’s hand.
“This one is a judgment call. You can definitely say, ‘Oh, you know, she’s really susceptible to germs right now.’ But keep in mind that you are bringing your child into a world with a lot of germs, and if you try to keep her in a total bubble, some people may think it’s too much. If it’s a good friend, and she’s not sick, and she does touch your baby’s hand, you can discreetly wash your baby’s hand immediately after.”

Your mom really wants to hold your baby. It’s obvious that she’s under the weather, but when you ask her, she denies it . . . because she really wants to hold your baby.
“Use humor here. Keep it light and mother her a little, saying, ‘Mom, what are you doing? You need to be in bed, not picking up my baby. One sick person is enough!’”

Your father-in-law is a hand-cougher. And he gets offended when you ask him to wash his hands before holding his grandchild when he visits.
“When people come into your house, let them know up front what you expect of them so they’ll know how to interact. This is your child and your house, and you make the rules. You can say right away, ‘We ask everyone to take shoes off and wash hands.’ Be clear that it’s about your standard, not their particular germs. In the case of in-laws, involve your spouse and present a united front. Even if you have the best in-law relationships, it’s probably easier for your spouse to be the one enforcing the rules.”