Germs: Cleanliness is Next to Sickliness

germs are good for us

Dear Mr. Dad: With all the talk about bird flu and swine flu I’m in a panic about germs. I’m putting antibacterial soaps all over my house and hand sanitizers in the car and my kids’ backpacks. Is there anything else I can do?

A: The most important thing you can do right now is relax. There are a number of ways to reduce the risk that you or your children will get the flu (or come in contact with other dangerous germs), and antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers are at the bottom of the list: Get a flu shots every year, stay away from people who are sick, cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water (skip the antibacterial stuff, though—more on that in a minute), keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, or mouth (that’s the way most germs get into our body), get plenty of sleep, and eat right.
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Feeling Stressed? Relax. No, Seriously—It Could Kill You

We all know that stress isn’t good for us. But when we think (and talk) about stress, we usually mean big things—an ugly divorce, long stretches of unemployment, caring for a sick loved one for an extended period of time, and so on.

Stress contributes to anxiety and depression and can increase the risk of having a heart attack and keep your immune system from doing its job. But researchers are finding out that the damage caused by stress is less about the stress itself and more about how we react to it—even if it’s just the daily bumps in the road we all deal with: pending deadlines, getting cut off in traffic, annoying chores, or fights with your boss or your spouse.

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Cure for the common cold? Have kids!

Seems like every two weeks there’s a new study about how having kids affects parents. Some say it makes us happy, while others say it depresses us. Some say it extends our lifeapan, while others say it shortens us. Well, now there’s another piece of the puzzle.

According to new research, being a parent may make us healthier by reducing our risk of catching a cold by more than 50 percent.
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Breastfeeding Dad

Dear Mr. Dad: My baby’s mom and I are separated and I hardly ever get to see my 9-month old son because my ex is breastfeeding. Isn’t there some way I can spend more than just a few hours at a time with him?

A: Feeding your baby is a wonderful way for the two of you to bond with each other. And yes, there are some ways for you to increase your time with him. But before we get to that, it’s important to acknowledge that your ex is doing a fantastic thing for your son.

Current recommendations are that babies should have nothing but breast milk for the first six months of life, then, over the next six months, gradually phase out the milk and phase in solid food. As you may have heard, breastfed babies have stronger immune systems, are less likely to develop ear infections or pneumonia, and may even have higher IQs. Keep in mind, though, that it’s not the act of breastfeeding that gives babies all these advantages; it’s the actual breast milk itself.

Most mothers will express, or pump, their breast milk using a breast pump. The milk can stay in the refrigerator for up to a week or be frozen for several months. Later, when your baby is with you, you’ll give him that milk in a bottle. Using pumped breast milk will allow you to take your son overnight—but you and your ex will have to cooperate. Unfortunately, using a breast pump can make women feel like a cow. And pumps aren’t cheap (they can cost as much as $350). She can rent one, but long term, that will end up costing even more. If your ex won’t provide breast milk, you could give your baby formula—if your pediatrician agrees—until he hits 12 months, which is when he can start drinking cow’s milk. But your wife would still need to pump when the baby’s with you to keep up her milk supply.

If your son has never had a bottle, introducing one might be tricky. Here are some tips:

  • Practice. Don’t wait until you have your son for a full day before trying a bottle. Drinking from a bottle is different than breastfeeding so give your baby a chance to get the hang of it.
  • Offer a bottle a little earlier than his regular feeding time so he’s not starving.
  • Ask your ex to go somewhere else while you’re introducing the bottle. Babies can smell their mothers up to 20 feet away and he may not want to try something new if he can smell her breast
  • Don’t force it. If your son resists, try again a little later. You might also try putting some breast milk on the nipple of the bottle, experimenting with a different type of nipple, or changing positions.
  • If your son flat out refuses to take a bottle, try putting the milk in a sippy cup.

Most babies your son’s age have already started eating at least some solid foods (although “solid” is hardly the right word—“soupy” or “mushy” would be closer). In fact, it’s possible that several of his daytime snacks and feedings in a row consist entirely of baby food (the kind you can buy in the grocery store). This opens up the opportunity for you to take your son for a pretty good stretch. However, to quickly identify allergies, introduce new foods slowly—one at a time every few days. And make sure you and your ex are sharing this information with each other.

Unexpected benefits of daycare

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are expecting our first and we’re on the fence about whether to hire a nanny or find a childcare center for our son. It would be great to have someone at home to take care of household chores, but our friends say that there are some great advantages—for us as parents—to having our child in daycare too. Is there any truth to this?

A: In a word, yes. While it’s every parent’s dream to come home to a sparkling clean house where the laundry and the toys have been put away and as healthy dinner’s on the table, having a child in daycare offers some definite benefits to parents as well as to kids. In fact, the same day as I got your email, I received a copy of a new book by Mario Small, a Professor in Sociology at the University of Chicago, who has extensively studied a number of these benefits.

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