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Home, hygiene, and your little one

The hidden dangers of an unhygienic home for babies and toddlers
At face value your home may appear tidy, hygienic and generally an environmentally safe place to raise a child. However the hidden dangers of an unhygienic home are surprisingly wide ranging; recent research has found that 37 million Britons are failing to adhere to basic hygiene standards, with further research finding that in eight out of ten homes, the toilet is cleaner than the fridge. With this in mind - where else in the average home is failing to be kept to a hygienic standard, and what implications does this have for the health and welfare of babies and toddlers?

Evidence from The International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene has found that, in general, the public have a poor understanding of microbiological risk and proper food storage and preparation procedures, as well as only a limited awareness of home health hazards. This, combined with the fact that babies are commonly at an increased risk of infection in their first year of life as their immune systems are so weak, means home hygiene is incredibly important to get right, especially with a newborn in the house.

"Everywhere in a home is important to keep clean and hygienic when you have babies and toddlers around," says former paediatric nurse Helen McComish. "But key areas to focus on are floors, bed linen, toilets, toys and fridge's when storing bottles and baby food."

In the case of young babies, everyday activities such as nappy changing can result in the dangerous transmission of infection. This occurs mainly through hand contact with faecal contamination, on cloths and sponges where organisms grow in abundance, as well as through germs spread accidentally onto kitchen surfaces and food.

In order to prevent infection, it is recommended that disposable nappies be sealed in plastic and placed in a waste container. Reusable nappies should be disinfected within a nappy bucket, with the contents of this bucket poured down the toilet rather than the sink after use. As the risk of the spread of infection through nappies is so high, all surfaces touched during this procedure need to be cleaned and disinfected afterwards.

While the importance of hygiene surrounding nappies may seem an obvious thing to watch, there are several less obvious points to also keep an eye on. "Having pets within the home can be risky as they spread infections, parasites and worms," says Helen. "But also dust carrying bacteria and viruses can live in the atmosphere so that is important to monitor. There is also the risk that if a home is damp, children may develop croup and bronchitis, so again watch for that."

When your child starts to crawl the importance of home hygiene is paramount, as crawling infants move around and pick up items that could be home to millions of species of bacteria. These items can include child specific toys and games as well as household items, all of which should be thoroughly cleaned, limiting the growth and spread of dangerous organisms.

There are several high risk areas within the home and these of course include children's toys, mainly as these are commonly found scattered at various points throughout the home and are frequently found in the clutches and mouths of toddlers.

While home hygiene is incredibly important in order to curb the spread of infection and disease, there also exists the notion that homes can sometimes become 'too clean', resulting in children developing a weakened immune system. In fact it has been suggested that this over-cleanliness is responsible for the rise in asthma and certain allergies in recent years.

The advice from the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene suggests that in order to maintain a hygienic home that also leaves room for your children to build up a healthy immune system, an approach of 'targeted home hygiene' is needed. This approach encourages you to target hygiene at areas of germ 'hotspots', therefore protecting your family without going overboard. Here, germ hotspots, such as those mentioned above, should be kept clean and hygienic, as they are key areas to protect against infection.

While babies and children need to be exposed to bacteria in order to develop a healthy immune system for later life, home hygiene is incredible important. With the amount of time toddlers spend crawling around the home, manoeuvring and playing with toys as well as household objects, a hygienic home is important for the safety, health and well-being of babies, toddlers and older children.
Author : Elizabeth Stansfield

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