Only one in every 2,000 newborn baby deaths are linked to the hospital superbug MRSA, while almost 700,000 babies are born safe and well in Britain each year.
But if you’re worried, there are things you can do to reduce your chances even more.
What is MRSA?
It’s short for methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus. Staph aureus is a common bacteria found in the nose, throat or skin of about a third of us, but carrying it doesn’t mean we’re going to be infected. MRSA is a type of staph aureus that’s become resistant to methicillin and other antibiotics.
How is it spread?
It’s spread by coughing or breathing over others, or direct skin contact. It only causes problems if the bacteria gets into the body via a cut or injury. Most of us fight it off, but it’s harder if the immune system is low. That’s why people often get infected after surgery and why it’s more of a worry for newborn babies.
Can I protect my baby?
According to Sue Macdonald of the Royal College of Midwives, ‘Washing your hands is the simplest but most effective means of protection. Maternity units are usually very clean and midwives are aware of the importance of washing hands.’
The first time you visit the unit, ask what the hospital’s infection control policy is. Some now have awareness campaigns for staff, patients and visitors. If it looks dirty, tell your midwife. You can also tell the Head of Midwifery or the Supervisor of Midwives.
‘If you’re still not happy you can choose to have a home birth or to go to a different unit,’ says Sue. ‘So it’s worth visiting your chosen unit early and deciding if you are happy with it.’ You can also raise it with the Maternity Services Liaison committee through your local NCT group or the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS).
Once your baby’s born
Wash your hands before you hold her, and insist others do. ‘Not all visitors understand the need to wash their hands,’ says Sue. ‘Yet on the way to hospital they might have been on the bus or train and they come into the unit and ppick up the new baby.’
It’s also important to keep the area around the cord stump clean to reduce the risk of infection. Special powders and creams aren’t necessary. Simply use cool, boiled water and cotton wool and dry it thoroughly. Then fold the nappy under the stump to keep it dry.
Sue also recommends keeping your baby away from crowds for the first few weeks to give her immune system a chance to develop.
Breastfeeding, too, helps boost a baby’s immunity as breastmilk is rich in antibodies.
What about at home?
Once you’re home, keep up the routine of washing your hands before you pick her up. Use antibacterial wipes to clean your hands before your pick her up. Use antibacterial wipes to clean our hands or to wash down change areas when you’re out.
‘But don’t get too paranoid about it,’ advises Sue. ‘In most cases we survive with millions of bugs on and around us. We need a bit of exposure to build up our immunity. It’s only really a problem when our immunity is suppressed. Most mums and babies will be fine.’
For information and advice
- Call the NCT Enquiry Line on 0870 444 8707
- To get in touch with the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services, call the AIMS Helpline on 0870 765 1433.
For more information, visit http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/