Stay Healthy! Tips for Visiting the Pediatrician with Preemies or NICU Grads

January 17, 2023

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by Jenna Maxfield

While there are many precautions parents can take to protect their NICU graduates from contracting illnesses such as a cold, the flu, RSV or COVID-19, sometimes the inevitable happens. Between school, play dates, family visits and running errands, some germs are just impossible to avoid. And when your baby is ill, going to the doctor becomes priority. It’s also possible your NICU graduate’s wellness visit happens to fall in the middle of cold, flu and RSV season. In either scenario, visiting the pediatrician poses the risk of exposure to a multitude of germs. So, what can you do to protect your baby when a doctor’s visit is unavoidable? Here’s some suggestions.

Try to schedule appointments first thing in the morning

If it’s at all possible, try to schedule your doctor’s visits as early in the day as possible. The logic here is that the earlier in the day you’re there, the fewer germs you’ll encounter. Of course it’s not always possible to control what time of day your child sees the doctor, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Pack a full diaper bag of wipes, hand sanitizer, extra clothes, etc.

The idea here is to be prepared for anything. Wiping down surfaces your NICU graduate is going to encounter is a great practice, and having wipes handy will help with that. Soap may not always be at the ready to wash hands, meaning sanitizer will come in handy. Plus, knowing you’re prepared for anything will aid in decreasing the anxiety and stress of taking your baby to a doctor’s office full of germs and other sick kids.

Create a list of questions and concerns before visiting the doctor

Once at the doctor’s office, your attention will probably be focused on minimizing contact with germs. In order to have all your questions and concerns answered, as well as cut down on the length of the visit, write everything down you want to discuss with the doctor. There’s no such thing as too many questions at the pediatrician’s! By having a list ready once your appointment time comes, you can focus on keeping your NICU grad away from those pesky germs.

Ask for help upon arriving at the pediatrician’s office

Don’t hesitate to call ahead and ask the staff what protocol they have in place to minimize contagion. Find out if the doctor’s office has separate waiting rooms—a sick room and well room. If that isn’t an option, ask be put in a back room away from other patients, or ask if you can wait in your car until your appointment time. This became somewhat common protocol in 2020, and many offices will still accommodate this request. If the front desk claims they can’t help, ask for an office manager. The idea here is to avoid your NICU grad being around other sick kids as much as possible.

Keep your baby in a covered carrier

Sometimes waiting rooms are unavoidable. If your NICU grad still travels in a baby carrier, consider keeping it covered with a blanket any time the baby isn’t being examined. The blanket over the carrier acts as an additional barrier between your child and airborne diseases.

Wear a mask

If your NICU grad is too old for a carrier, consider having them wear a mask, another procedure from 2020 that many offices still adhere to. This may also help in protecting them from airborne sicknesses.

Bring your own toys

Most pediatrician offices have toys out for children to play with while in the waiting room. Don’t fall for this germ trap! Pack your own toys to keep your child occupied. The shared toys are most likely teeming with germs, something your NICU grad definitely doesn’t need exposure to!

Ask staff to wash hands

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Ask staff, including doctors, nurses and any other staff, to wash their hands before touching your baby. While most hospital and doctor’s office staff wash hands between visits, who knows what germs are lurking on surfaces they touch while en route to visit your own child? Another hand wash can never hurt!

Wash your own hands too!

Make sure to wash your own hands before leaving the doctor’s office, as well as when you get home. Have your NICU grad wash their hands as well if possible. If immediate access to a sink and soap isn’t available, use that hand sanitizer packed in your diaper bag. While washing hands seems a simple precaution, it can go a long way in keeping your baby healthy.

Change clothes once home

After arriving home from a visit to the doctor, change both your and your baby’s clothes. Germs may be lurking from the surfaces at the doctor’s office, and while it may seem excessive, any precautionary behavior against germs is well worth it.

With any visit to the doctor, there is always the unknown. Don’t stress too much over what you can’t control, but also know you have a right to speak up about your NICU grad’s exposure to germs. Focus on what you can control, and never think any precaution is too big or small. During cold, flu and RSV season, and the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, every precaution is worth it to your little one’s health.