After months of keeping baby snug and safe inside your body, and then bringing that miracle child into the outside world through what is often hours of hard labour, it can be quite stress inducing just thinking about that clean baby skin and those brand new lungs coming into contact with germs. Something that your friends, family, or even the medical professionals that assisted in the delivery of your baby can’t prepare you for is stranger etiquette.
Your feet drag through the produce aisle as you push your sleeping angel in the stroller. Your makeup is a few days old (at least), your hair is one flyaway short of requiring a hat, and your cart includes more snack food items than you care to admit are not actually on your list. Once you’ve grabbed the second last pack of Oreos on the shelf, a sweet old woman rounds the corner of the aisle and quickly sizes you up and down. Her focus hones in on your stroller, and on the sweet face of your beautiful creation.
“What a beautiful baby,” she coos. “Mama is looking great too.”
Her compliment almost makes you cry – just when you think your appearance couldn’t get any worse, someone completely makes your day. But as her compliment leaves her lips, and your awkward reply of “Oh, jeez, uh, thank you” as you look yourself over has completed, this woman’s hand simultaneously leaves its grip on her shopping cart and begins moving towards your baby… to your baby’s face… in slow motion! The look of horror comes across your face as her fingers get closer and closer, but you remain petrified, a statue reinforced to the floor, your tongue a brick of cement inside your mouth…
Okay, I’m going to have to stop this story right here – even the act of writing this moment is causing me stress!
For starters, it is NOT okay for strangers to think that if they pay you a compliment, they are entitled to touch your newborn child. It is completely your decision whether you wish to allow this type of behaviour to happen, but there does not exist some sort of obligation to allow it. Your child cannot speak for themselves to ask these strangers to keep their hands off, so you must be their voice, their advocate.
New moms are constantly put into this awkward situation during every single trip to the grocery store, or the mall, or even at sporting events – and sometimes multiple times during one trip! It is a very natural response for someone to get excited when they see a baby, or even a puppy or a kitten for that matter. But just like we were taught as children when we wanted to pet someone’s dog, ASK PERMISSION!
This is SO crucial! Asking permission does not make the mother contractually obligated to allow this strange person to go ahead and get their germy coughed-on fingers all over your immune sensitive child. It is acceptable, and even encouraged, to ask visitors within the first few months to wash their hands before holding or touching a baby, so how are you to know these strangers are fresh from the soapy water and hand dryer? Exactly, you don’t. It is completely acceptable to thank the person for their compliment, and then move on. Babies, especially those under the age of 1, are incredibly susceptible to a variety of diseases and illness, including the common cold, influenza, gastroenteritis (stomach bug), and more severe and possibly deadly illnesses such as the measles – which has had a recent outbreak in the GTA. These diseases and illness can be spread through direct contact, but also through air particles. A perfect alternative to having your child exposed to those air particles, and those reaching stranger fingers, is to invest in a Nursing Cover that can double as a stroller cover. It can give a sense of privacy and security to the parent when the child has privacy and security.
You DO have a choice of whether you want to allow strangers to touch your child. Keep in mind, it is okay to say no; asking permission does not mean you must give it. And no matter what dirty looks you get, be your child’s advocate!