Is it true that people should wash their hands before holding a newborn?

Yes, especially in the first couple of months of a baby's life. Hand-washing is the best way to prevent the spread of illness, and newborn babies are among those most at risk for infection.

You should wash your hands often, especially before feedings and after changing your baby's diaper or going to the bathroom. Teach other children to wash their hands with soap and water long enough to sing two rounds of "Happy Birthday to You." And if anyone has a cold or other illness, have everyone wash their hands more often.

When it comes to visitors, be assertive for your baby's sake. It's perfectly reasonable to ask Grandma and other visitors to wash their hands before holding your baby. Most people understand and comply happily, but for the occasional visitor who claims there's no need because he isn't sick, a gentle reminder that people can spread germs without having any signs of illness might convince him otherwise.

Some parents find it helpful to put older siblings in charge of hand-washing patrol, offering to show visitors to the sink and a clean towel. If visitors aren't willing to wash their hands, or if you're not near soap and water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good option.