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Do you Insist that Every Visitor First Wash Their Hands Before Holding Your Baby?

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So this thing of every visitor being asked to wash their hands before handling a newborn, what do you think of it? Should every visitor who comes to see your newborn wash their hands? The rationale being that at that tender age, babies’ immune systems are not as strong hence leaving them vulnerable to infections.

I know of this new mom who recently hosted her mother-in-law (MIL). The senior woman had paid a visit, more specifically to see her new grandson. It had been a tiresome eight-hour road trip from the village for the elderly lady who was overly excited at meeting the newborn. It is indeed such a joy and blessing to be able to hold one’s own grandchild. I pray that I will be able to do some someday. Anyway, as soon as this MIL entered her daughter-in-law’s house, she happily and lovingly stretched out her arms to hold the baby who was comfortably nesting in his mother’s arms.

But her enthusiasm was abruptly cut short by her daughter-in-law’s reaction.

“Mother, if you could please wash your hands first,” the young mother said as she slightly turned to the side, clinging on to her little boy.

The elderly woman stepped back in shock. How dare the young woman accuse her of being filthy! She did not waste time in expressing her disappointment.

“Child, I have lived many years and held many babies, but no mother has ever ordered me to wash my hands before holding their baby. I can assure you that you are the first!” retorted the visibly offended woman.

Newborn (1)

But the new mom still insisted. The old lady had to wash her hands before holding her newborn. She was not going to compromise on that. Nope, not at all. But despite her attempts at apologizing while yet emphasizing the importance of washing hands before handling a newborn, her MIL remained terribly upset. She would not even listen to her own son who intervened and tried to explain that it was a mandatory routine in their house that all visitors to wash their hands with soap before holding their baby. The damage had already been done. It was downhill after that.

Eventually, the elderly lady did wash her hands. But she left their house the following day, unexpectedly cutting short her intended week-long visit at her son’s place. She did not want to be hosted in a house where she felt unwelcome because of the germs she had ‘imported’ from the village.

But this couple is not alone. The issue of requesting all visitors to wash their hands before holding the baby is one that is stirring up conflict in many homes. The truth is that many people’s hands are not always clean as some don’t wash them after visiting the toilet, some come straight from the market, some from smoking, some from handling money, while some have just come from blowing their nose into a mucus-soaked handkerchief -and yet they all want to hold, touch your baby and smother them with kisses.

Nowadays, it is almost normal to be directed to a sink to wash your hands as soon as you enter the house, or alternatively be offered some hand sanitiser as you get into the home. But we are soon discovering that what is normal may be interpreted as rude and disrespectful by other people, as is the case above.

So what are young parents who are keen on following this trend supposed to do? How do you ask relatives, especially older ones, to wash their hands with soap before touching your baby without coming off as rude? This, especially in Africa where the elderly are revered and treated with utmost respect? Should you make some exemptions, such as for MIL’s? Or is this just another case of ‘modern’ parents taking things too seriously?

What about you -did you require that all visitors wash their hands before they held your newborn? Did all visitors comply, or did you experience some trouble like this new mom? See comments below and add your voice too.

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Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama is a Kenyan mum raising her two sons in Nairobi. A journalist, Maryanne is passionate about telling stories and hopes that through her writing, her readers learn something new, feel encouraged, inspired, and appreciative of what they have in their lives. Maryanne's writing focuses on motherhood, women and lifestyle. "Telling stories is the only thing I know how to do," she says.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I think it is too challenging to ask visitors to wash their hands before holding your baby. Here is the trick, once you know a visitor is coming, it would be better to keep the baby in the bedroom and pretend that you want to serve them with tea before the baby wakes up. You will have the opportunity to have them wash their hands without so much trouble.

  2. For sure Maryanne coz it is very hard to tell someone to wash hands before holding a baby especially in rural areas, you will be called names I tell you!!!

  3. I think you should be able to tell someone to wash their hands before touching your new baby; in fact, I think that person should be responsible and adult enough to say ‘let me wash my hands, then I can cuddle the baby’. The older person shouldn’t have taken offence and, if she did, it’s just tough, and perhaps she’ll learn for the next time. After all, we have the right to ask people not to smoke near our children, so what’s the difference? The baby has to come first because it can’t take care of itself.

    I have a similar dilemma right now in my home. I have visitors who help themselves to tea and coffee – which I am more than happy with – but they touch all my clean things with hands that they never wash even after they have blown their noses, sat at my dining table puttin cream on their feet (which have a skin condition), or go to the loo. I once mentioned it to the man (when he visited with a heavy cold and kept leaving dirty tissues on my kitchen worktops!) but he has obviously forgotten. I don’t really know what to do next – my husband can’t see a problem with it! Last night I tried to bring the subject up by saying why society frowns on spitting in the street, because it spreads infectious diseases, but it all just fell on deaf ears. I have taken to getting up early and wiping everything down with neat alcohol and wishing my time away until they leave.

    I would welcome any suggestions to help me with this!

  4. Actually I did..that is when my kids were small.When I knew visitors were coming,I ensured they have been served something to eat before seeing the baby.I rode on African manners that a visitor must be fed first before they fulfill their business of the day.
    I on the other hand never go for the baby first.I wash my hands and dry them well.I also never wear perfume when going to see a new baby.And..I always ask for a clean flannel to place on my shoulder so that the baby does not come into contact with my dirty clothes.
    Finally,unless the parents are okay with it,I never take pictures of brand new babies.

  5. Hi, I know how difficult it is to tell someone to wash their hands before holding your precious one. I remember when I told my first cousin to wash her hands it really affected her and she felt that I was so proud and that she was dirty.I took it lightly knowing I didnt mean any harm but now we are cool; this was later understood.

    So at times it is vital we do we can to protect our loved ones even though it should be done in a modest and soft way to protect the feelings of your relatives.

    The good thing is that majority of my friends understood and no one complained and they were happy to do it. Infact they rushed to the sink to wash their hands without wasting time since they were anxious to hold the baby and knew the importance of doing that. One even had a bad flu and suggested that he would prefer he doesn’t hold the baby since he may infect the baby.

    So here is the trick: identify the person, know them and know how to approach each and every individual. For old people they deserve respect and must find a proper way of doing it by advising them to take tea first that way they will feel you care for them. Otherwise all the best mums.

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