8 tips for keeping newborns healthy when traveling

The past few days have been very stressful for our family. On Wednesday evening, our newborn baby Olivia felt a little warm so my wife and I took her temperature. To our dismay, she had a fever. We tried multiple thermometers and ways to take her temperature (temporally, under the arm, rectally) and they all gave different readings but they ranged from 99.8ºF to 102.3ºF. However, the most accurate temperature is obtained rectally and if it’s above 100.4ºF, a newborn needs to go straight to the hospital so we quickly packed up and drove to the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai.

Throughout her pregnancy, my wife ended up in the hospital three times before finally delivering our baby. Her experience at Cedars-Sinai was amazing each time. Upon entering the hospital’s emergency room, she was always immediately whisked up to Labor & Delivery. I believe this is standard protocol for women who are 21 weeks or further along in their pregnancy.

I hoped that our experience with Olivia would be similar, that she would be whisked out of the emergency room, which was full of sick people. Unfortunately, it wasn’t but babies are still given priority. In a private triage room, a nurse took her temperature (101 degrees) and weighed her. The scale indicated that she had lost a lot of weight but it turns out the scale was broken (thank goodness!) and when she was weighed again later on a working scale, we got her accurate weight.

The doctors came in and explained that the standard of care for babies in their first 28 days of life with a fever of 100.4ºF is to do blood and urine tests and give them a spinal tap. The latter just seemed inconceivable to my wife and me but we checked with our pediatrician and friends who are doctors. They all confirmed that not only was this true but that their recommendation was for Olivia to have the procedure done so the doctors would have a clear picture of what was going on and be equipped to treat her accordingly.

It’s not easy to see your newborn hurting. The doctors suggested we leave the room for the spinal tap. I was torn and couldn’t bear to leave my baby’s side but I didn’t want to distract the doctors since they said there’s a chance of spinal cord injury if anything goes wrong. When the pediatrician on call said that she had never performed a spinal tap, I told her that I was sorry but that I would need someone with experience to give my daughter hers. She understood and they brought in the E.R. doctor who said he’d done so many he couldn’t count them.

After all her tests were complete, Olivia was admitted into the Pediatrics ward. It’s on the 4th floor of the hospital near the NICU but it’s much more depressing than the Labor & Delivery ward on the 3rd floor. It’s an old building and it was really quiet, not a lot of staff working late at night and fairly dark.

Olivia was assigned to room 4006 and Natalie didn’t leave Olivia’s side the entire time. Not to stretch her legs, not to get food and she didn’t even shower for three days, not wanting to leave Olivia unattended in the room. She was amazing and she herself was still recovering from a C-section.

We waited and waited to figure out what was wrong with our baby. It takes 48 hours to get the results from the spinal tap; the doctors were waiting to see if any bacteria would grow in the fluid, which would indicate a bacterial infection and would be very dangerous.

Shortly after Olivia’s tests were done, I suddenly noticed I had pimple-like spots on my left hand. I’d never seen anything like them before and had no idea what they could be. I consulted Dr. Google and the closest thing I could find resembling what I had was a photo of atopic dermatitis on WebMD. Hmm…

I asked the pediatrician if what was on my hands could be related to what was going on with Olivia and she said she didn’t think so. The following morning, when a large group of doctors were doing their rounds, I asked them what could be on my hands. No one seemed to know. I consulted other doctors and no one really knew what it was or thought I should be concerned.

Later in the day, an infectious disease specialist came by to see Olivia. When he walked in, he looked more like a mad scientist (crazy hair and all) than a doctor. But I was quickly reminded never to judge a book by its cover. I showed him my hand and instantly, he said, “You’ve got hand, foot and mouth disease, bro.” My heart stopped since I didn’t really know what that meant. But after he explained that kids often get it and adults can, too, and that it’s really no big deal, I felt better.

He explained that it’s a viral infection that just needs to run its course. It’s not contagious unless I sneeze, cough or kiss someone or share a cup or utensil.

I showed the doctor a picture of our almost-three-year-old’s mouth, because last week, he was complaining that his mouth hurt and he said yes, that’s a sore and he no doubt had hand, foot and mouth first. Natalie and I later remembered seeing what we thought were bug bites on Jack’s feet the week before.

Given this new information and the presence of hand, foot and mouth in our home, the doctor was able to deduce that Olivia had developed enterovirus meningitis. He ordered a test on her spinal fluid to confirm this and he was right. The word “meningitis” is so scary but fortunately, Olivia has viral meningitis, which will clear on its own, rather than the much more dangerous bacterial meningitis. When we finally got all her test results back, they were negative for bacterial infections.

My guess is that Olivia caught the virus by Jack putting her binky in his mouth and then hers, even though when we saw him do it once, we washed it (the kid is quick!). The difficult part of all of this is that the incubation period for hand, foot and mouth is three to six days (though one doctor told us seven to 14 days) and during this time, you are contagious but may not show any symptoms. So it’s likely that Jack was sick and contagious when we brought his baby sister home from the hospital, but none of us knew it yet. His pediatrician said that once the rash started blooming on his feet, he was nearing the end of the illness and was no longer contagious.

Before all of this, we didn’t know much about what hand, foot and mouth was (not to be confused with foot and mouth disease, which is deadly for animals). Here’s more info for anyone interested:

This experience was traumatic for Olivia but also for Natalie and me (and even Jack, who just wanted his mama and sister to come home from the hospital). We learned a lot about hand, foot and mouth and viral meningitis but also picked up some tips for keeping newborns healthy, whether you’re at home or traveling.

Tips for keeping newborns healthy when traveling

When you have a newborn, one of your main jobs is to keep them healthy. It’s an incredible but daunting responsibility, one that can be even more challenging when you’re traveling. Here are a few tips to help:

1. Wash your hands
Washing your hands is one of the simplest ways to limit the spread of germs. Be sure to wash your hands regularly before handling a newborn and ask anyone else who touches the baby to do the same.

2. Pack hand sanitizer and wipes
Don’t use hand sanitizer on the baby but if you can’t get to a bathroom to wash your own hands, at least you can sanitize your hands quickly. Wipes are always handy as well when you’re traveling but use your discretion. Disinfectant wipes can be used to wipe down your airplane seat, vent, tray table, seatbelt, etc but make sure baby doesn’t touch those surfaces while they’re still wet from disinfectant.

3. Breastfeed if you can
Moms, if you’re able to breastfeed your baby on an airplane, you’ll be doing her a world of good. First, breastfeeding will soothe and comfort your baby and during takeoff and landing, and can help prevent their ears from popping. On top of that, breastmilk provides all kinds of antibodies that can protect baby from infection and illness.

4. Limit baby’s exposure to people
Until baby’s immune system gets stronger and they start getting their vaccinations, it’s a wise idea to keep baby away from large groups of people. We didn’t travel with our son until he was eight-months old. We also wanted to avoid traveling with a tiny baby during flu season.

5. Don’t let strangers touch your baby
So many people approach us when we’re with our little ones and want to touch their fingers or cheeks but that’s exactly how germs are spread and infants aren’t strong enough to fight them off.

6. Monitor baby’s diapers
Baby’s diapers can tell you so much about the health of your child. Try to keep track of how many wet diapers your baby is producing each day. If the number of wet diapers starts to decrease, you may want to take baby to see a doctor as this could be a sign of dehydration and require that baby be put on IV fluids to replenish and rehydrate her.

7. Take your shoes off
Inside your hotel room, take your shoes off and leave them at the front door. Dirt, germs, bacteria, and toxins are tracked into your room on the bottoms of your shoes. Take your shoes off inside so you’re not spreading the germs all over the place, especially once baby starts crawling.

8. Secure baby’s binky
A binky may be baby’s favorite thing so don’t take any chances with it. Use a clip to secure the binky to baby so that when it slips out of his mouth, it doesn’t land on a germ-infested floor. Here’s a selection to choose from.

Before you go

The last thing any parent wants is a sick baby so stay vigilant and do everything you can to protect your baby during these delicate first months. It’s a good idea to consult your pediatrician before traveling with a newborn; she’ll have lots of helpful tips to make sure that your trip is as enjoyable as possible for everyone.

For extra security…

And for extra security, consider investing in a travel insurance policy. I work with Allianz Travel Insurance and have policies for my entire family, which has been useful, especially when our son got sick on the road recently. A travel insurance policy can not only help with unexpected medical costs but can give travelers peace of mind as well. The Allianz TravelSmart app is also very handy to keep on your phone. It will give you instant access to your policy (so you know what you’re covered for) and allows you to file a claim and upload documents all in one place. Plus, you can do an international hospital search, find emergency phone numbers for police, fire and ambulance and there’s a translator that helps you translate first-aid terms and medication names into 18 languages.


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