Count your blessings if your family has managed to ward off this year’s nasty norovirus and flu bugs—so far. Flu season is hardly over, and now’s the time to be as diligent as ever about protecting your little ones from germs. So we turned to pediatric expert Dr. Morris Nejat, Medical Director & Advisor of BabyGanics, for some tips and helpful reminders on how to survive the worst of germ season.

StrollerTraffic: For starters, what do you think are the five most essential items for parents to have on hand during cold and flu season?
Dr. Morris Nejat: I’d say a digital thermometer, a bulb syringe (for drawing mucus out of a stuffy nose), alcohol-free sanitizing wipes, cold relief chest rub, and all purpose wipes.

ST: We understand the best way to prevent colds and flu is hand washing. Any tips for thoroughly washing little hands?
Dr. MN: A good rule of thumb is to sing the ‘ABCs’ twice as you wash thoroughly, between fingers and under fingernails, ideally with a naturally safe, plant-based soap.
ST: Wow. Two runs of ABCs is a long time. Good to know. Can you tell us a little about hand sanitizers? Are they as effective as soap and water?
Dr. MN: Kids don’t need to use an antibacterial soap because they don’t need to sterilize their hands; they just need to wash away germs. Of course, kids can’t wash their hands every time they touch their nose or share a toy on a play date. For those periods in between hand washing, applying a safe, non-alcohol based hand sanitizer is the best line of defense.
ST: Beyond hands, where else can germs live? And for how long?
Dr. MN: Germs can live on surfaces like door handles, grocery carts, high chairs, toys, bathroom floors, and changing tables for days. Porous, cracked or damaged plates and surfaces can provide bacteria safe havens to hide out.

ST: Days? Oh, gross. So what’s the best way to keep surfaces germ-free?
Dr. MN: Get into the habit of wiping down these surfaces with safe, non-toxic wipes Surfaces like your tub and counters are likely to gather moisture so wiping these surfaces down regularly will prevent the collection and creation of mold. It’s also a great idea to give toys a good wash in the sink—then set them out to dry on a nearby counter or bath towel to keep mold and bacteria away.
ST: Okay, let’s get off the subject of germs. (So upsetting.) What about nursery climate? During cold and flu season, what should parents keep in mind when it comes to the temperature and humidity of baby’s room?
Dr. MN: Keep the temperature between 68 and 72 degrees, and pump up the moisture. Eczema and severe dry skin tend to flare up in the winter months when it’s cold outside and dry inside, so a humidifier is a must—just keep it as clean and dry as possible in between uses, otherwise your humidifier can become a moldy mess.

ST: Are HEPA filters helpful?
Dr. MN: Definitely invest in a vacuum with a HEPA (high-energy particulate air) filter, which will trap not only animal dander but also dust-mite droppings. It’s a safe idea to vacuum when your child is out of the room. Just remember that it takes nearly two hours for allergens stirred up by vacuum cleaning to settle back down!

ST: And what about vitamins and probiotics? Are they helpful in the prevention or management of colds and flu?
Dr. MN: Studies have shown that vitamins are rarely beneficial to healthy breastfed babies during the first six months of life. As for probiotics, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that more research needs to be done to determine their long-term effect on babies and young children. If the AAP determines that probiotics are in fact beneficial, research will need to establish how kids should take them—and for how long—in order to reap the most benefit.
ST: Got it. And what if a baby does get sick? For parents wary of medicating babies and toddlers, what natural remedies can soothe symptoms?
Dr. MN: While certain medical conditions and even severe skin irritation legitimately call for the prescribed use of medicine or steroids, there are some natural ways to help a baby feel more comfortable. For example, to calm a cough in the winter, bundle your baby up and bring him or her outside to breathe in fresh air. This will temporarily help to open up their airways until you can see a pediatrician. If you can treat the problem without drugs or steroid-based products—fantastic!

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