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Fall brings crisp air, rosy baby cheeks and drawers full of tiny hats and mittens. Unfortunately, it also brings the advent of cold and flu season, when your vulnerable infant may be exposed to ailments like pneumonia, respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus, or RSV, and a host of other illnesses that can lead to hospitalization and worse.

Because babies are still building critical immune-supporting antibodies, they lack protection against viruses and gastro-intestinal illnesses that circulate during cold and flu season. And because tiny bodies are more severely impacted by fever or dehydration, these illnesses can lead to hospitalization for babies. Here’s how to keep your baby out of the doctor’s office this season.

Home sweet home

Traditional parenting advice had new mothers and their babies stay close to home for the first several months of a child’s life. Turns out, this age-old wisdom has some modern relevance. Keeping baby at home during the first two months, when he’s at his most vulnerable, helps keep nasty bugs at bay by preventing exposure to germy hands and surfaces. When you do venture out, keep baby close by wearing him in a carrier, and don’t be afraid to ask strangers not to touch him. Keeping him healthy is your top priority.

Wash up

Even if you do stick close to home for a couple of months, you’re bound to receive your share of visitors who want to ooh and ahh over your newborn. People who are sick should wait until they’re symptom-free for 24 hours before visiting. Ask all guests to lather up their hands with soap and hot water for 20 seconds (be sure to follow this advice yourself, too). And though kissable baby cheeks are nearly irresistible, a lips-off policy is a safe bet too, so mention that you’d prefer for Great Aunt Millie, or your 5-year-old niece, not to kiss baby on the mouth or face.

Give it your best shot

The best way to prevent once-common childhood illnesses like meningitis and chicken pox is to follow the recommended vaccination schedule for your child, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But because your baby won’t receive her first round of vaccinations until two months of age, the best way to protect her is to stay current on your own shots. Expectant parents are urged to get vaccinated against whooping cough in their third trimester to protect their unvaccinated newborn. Grandparents and other caregivers should get vaccinated, too.

And don’t forget the flu shot—your baby can get it around six months of age. Influenza can be serious and even fatal in newborns, and the CDC reports that 90 percent of pediatric flu deaths occur in unvaccinated children.

Safe side

Despite your best efforts at prevention, your baby may still catch a bug or two; some experts estimate that infants spend 120 days sick during their first year of life. Any time your newborn has a rectal temperature over 100, call your pediatrician; vomiting, listlessness, and fewer than 6-8 wet diapers in a 24-hour period warrant a call, too.

Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is "Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades."

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