Monday, November 5, 2012

Strangers and Friends, Touching and Holding

It's Instinct

Ever watched footage of a mother animal (read: bear, dog) protecting her little animal babies?  Stuff goes down...

Us parents are protective of our babies.  We secure them in car seats, we wash our hands before we hold them, we bundle them up when it's cold.  And we would never ever ever knowingly put them in harms way; in fact we might be overly cautious avoiding harm to our babies.  Especially us new parents.

Because we aren't wild animals, us humans can't just growl or bark at anyone who comes near our babies.  Monitoring appropriate conduct between 'other people' and our baby, while being socially reasonable, can be a delicate dance.

Stranger, Danger?

For me, there is a primal instinct that kicks in when other people get too close to my baby, especially people outside my circle of trust.  Adrenaline causes a heightened awareness of my surroundings.  Any small-talk or food I may have been enjoying instantly becomes obsolete.  All I can focus on is Penny's well-being and any outside stimulus that might threaten it.  Other shoppers in the line at the grocery store, kids at the park, walkers by in the mall -- basically anyone wielding strong perfume, sharp jewelry, sharp fingernails, potential clumsiness, a loud laugh, a loud cell phone, dirt, boogers or germs of any kind -- is a potential threat.

Don't worry, I play it cool and act natural around these minor threats, but I am always on alert.  I think this is because I have had quite a few strangers come into my personal space and physically touch Penny, probably more than the number of strangers who touched my belly when I was pregnant.

I remember the very first instance:

Penny was about a month old, and Dan and I went on a "date" to a relatively nice dining establishment.  We enjoyed our first dinner out while the little lady slept in her car seat on a sling next to our table.  When our waitress brought us the bill, as she proceeded to tell us one more time how precious Penelope was, she reached down and stroked Penny's cheek with her hand.

Did she just touch my baby in the face? 

She touched my baby.  On her face.


Did SHE, a complete stranger with who-knows-what germs on her hands, just TOUCH my tiny infant baby ON THE FACE???

I couldn't even eat my dessert I was so shaken up.  Oh I was upset.

You could always buy a sign for your
stroller or car seat that says:
"It's OK to make me smile
but passing germs is not in style.
Please don't touch."
But... really?
Did Penny get sick? nope. Injurred? nope. Did she even wake up? nope.  But she COULD have.  I admit that the fire that sparked inside me may have been more than a bit irrational, but I couldn't help it.  It's instinct.  So now I'm always on alert.  And coincidentally, we haven't gone back to that restaurant...

Staying On Top of It
Without Losing Your Cool

With complete strangers who take the initiative to go ahead and touch babies out of nowhere, it's best to catch them before it happens.  Perhaps the most proactive approach would be to put a "No Touch" sticker on baby's beanie... but I haven't resorted to that.   I keep an eye on their hands and insert mine if they start to reach.  I also have no problem saying "That's a little too close for germs." if they lean in beyond my comfort zone.   With little kids, I always say to them, "Would you like to tickle her feet?" to steer them away from the face and hands.  Bottom line though, if it comes down to it, I'll have no problem losing my cool if it means protecting Penny.

Playing 'Pass The Baby'

Babies are perfect, innocent, sweet-smelling little bundles of awesomeness... who wouldn't want to hold a baby?  No mother wants to be rude to someone who is magnetized by the awesomeness of her baby.  Nor would she ever want to deprive anyone of the rare opportunity for just a few minutes of that Oxytocin-induced serenity that comes from holding a baby.

However, "Can I hold your baby?" can lead to "(...awkward)".  Sometimes it's just not the right place and time to hand the baby to someone else.  Maybe mama isn't comfortable with the person asking, maybe it's not a good time or a good place to pass the baby around, or maybe mama just wants to have her baby all to herself.  And that's OK.

Saying No Nicely

I try to be reasonable about other people holding Penny.  If it's the right environment and timing, and I trust the person, I usually have no problem handing her over.  If it's the wrong person, place or time, I try to take the honest, assertive route whenever I can.  "You know, now is just not a good time."  or "I don't want her to wake up." or "I'd rather just keep her right here since there is so much going on around us."

In rare extreme circumstances, sometimes I have to make up an excuse.  "She's getting really tired and might fuss if I hand her to someone else" comes across a lot nicer than "You smell really bad and I don't want whatever bacteria that's causing your body odor to get on my baby."

I also tend to offer: "Would you like to hold her?" in situations where I am totally OK with passing Penny around, that way the other person doesn't have to even ask.  And, if it would help me out for someone else to hold her, I will always always ask.  For example, "Would you be comfortable holding her so I can re-tie my shoe?"

Advice for the Well-Intentioned 'Other' Person

Just gotta get your hands on that baby? Some guidelines for baby-touching:
  • Let mama know that your hands are clean (if they aren't, go wash them first!), it puts us at ease a little bit.
  • Generally speaking, baby's feet and top of the head are the best places to make contact.
  • Baby's face and hands are off limits.  Never ever touch a baby's mouth.
  • Never ever kiss a baby who is not in your immediate family.  It's creepy.  And the most likely thing to pass along your germs.
  • If the baby is a brand new newborn, resist the urge and just admire from a few feet away.  

Wanna hold the baby? Guidelines for asking:
  • Try saying "If there is a moment that works, I'd love to hold her" instead of putting mama on the spot with "Can I hold her [now]?"
  • Let mama know that your hands are clean (if they aren't, go wash them!)
  • Don't play it off like you are doing mama a favor by holding her baby for her.  If mama needs you to hold the baby, she'll ask you to.  Don't beat around the bush.
  • If you know you are headed somewhere hoping to hold a baby, leave off the strong cologne, perfume and lotion, this might help your chances! 
  • If mama says "No," that doesn't mean she doesn't like you, and it doesn't mean you won't ever get to hold the baby again.  It might just be a bad time or place.  Please don't be offended.
  • If you are a complete stranger... Unless you are a fireman, police officer, doctor or nurse in the line of duty... No, you can't hold my baby.

General guidelines for appropriate contact and conduct around other people's babies:
  • Always wash your hands first (have I drilled this one in enough?)
  • Respect mama's boundaries, stated or perceived.
  • If you are sick, stay away. (this should be a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised!)  Same goes for if you just smoked a cigarette... really bad for babies.
One last thing... 

Here is a great video on how to hold a baby... just in case you need a refresh before the next time I hand you mine!
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