Baby boy sleeping under the Christmas tree on New Year's Eve

Holiday Gatherings with a Newborn 2022: How to Lower Risks of RSV, Covid + Flu

Should I bring my newborn to holiday gatherings? If you’re a new parent, there’s no doubt this question is on your mind this year. COVID changed everything about how parents make decisions about introducing their baby to the outside world. In 2022, new parents also have to consider the impacts of flu and RSV this holiday season. Here’s what new parents need to know about the benefits and risks of attending holiday gatherings in 2022. 

Respiratory Viruses

Viruses thrive during colder months when people spend more time indoors. Viruses like COVID, flu, and RSV are highly contagious and spread by droplets and respiratory secretions. Transmission can occur by:

  • Inhaling droplets from an infected person’s cough, sneeze, or even regular exhalation 
  • Touching a contaminated surface then touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth

While COVID surged in 2020-2021, cases of other respiratory viruses were markedly low, thanks to masking and social distancing. However as COVID restrictions ease it’s already clear that this year will see a big surge in respiratory viruses like flu, RSV, and the common cold. And of course, COVID-19 is still a concern. 

These viruses cause mild to moderate symptoms in most people, such as:

  • Congestion
  • Runny Nose
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing

However, those who are immunocompromised, elderly, or very young can have severe illness. RSV, which stands for Respiratory Syncytial Virus, is of particular concern to newborns as it can cause difficulty breathing. Most adults with RSV experience typical cold-like symptoms, while babies and young children can develop severe respiratory distress that requires hospitalization. RSV typically peaks in the winter, but this fall we’re already seeing higher caseloads than previous years. There is no vaccine for RSV.

Risks of Holiday Gatherings

There’s no doubt that indoor gatherings increase the risk of catching a respiratory virus. In general, the larger the gathering, the greater the risk. But other factors that affect transmission risk come into play, such as:

  • Each person’s exposure history (i.e. do they work at home vs. work in a school or hospital, live locally or traveled via plane to the gathering)
  • Air ventilation and air quality
  • Ability to social distance
  • Length of time spent at the gathering

    Parents of newborns face tough decisions this year. While vaccination and social distancing have helped to lessen COVID’s impact, we don’t get to breathe a sigh of relief just yet. As newborns are too young to be vaccinated against COVID and flu, and there is no RSV vaccine, they are at a higher risk of contracting respiratory viruses. Any illness, especially one that causes a fever or impacts breathing, is considered a medical emergency for infants under 3 months of age. The risks of attending holiday gatherings are highest for our youngest family members. 

Benefits of Holiday Gatherings

After years of isolation and distancing, we’re well aware of the mental and emotional impacts that come as a result. For many people, 2022 is the first holiday season in 3 years that they’re considering gathering with loved ones again. Wanting to (finally!) spend time with family and friends during the holidays is completely valid! 

Modern parenthood is isolating enough, without the added stress of social distancing. Raising children was never meant to be a solo act, and having good community is key to thriving as a new parent. Most health experts agree that we don’t have to go back to the strict isolation of prior years this holiday season. Attending holiday gatherings with a newborn increases the risk of catching or spreading a respiratory virus, but it certainly doesn’t mean it will definitely happen. Thankfully, for parents who decide to gather with loved ones during the holidays, there are ways to lessen the risk.

How to Safeguard Against Respiratory Viruses 

By now, we’re well-versed in how to better protect ourselves against respiratory viruses:

  • Frequent hand washing 
  • Masking
  • Staying 6ft from others
  • Using air purifiers and opening windows
  • Vaccination (stay up to date on COVID boosters + annual flu shot)
  • Keep gatherings small

For those who plan to attend holiday gatherings, it’s also recommended to take a rapid COVID test before attending, and to make sure others do the same. For holiday gatherings with a newborn, blanket rules such as no kissing the baby and thorough handwashing before holding the baby are a must. As always, do not attend a gathering if you feel unwell or have symptoms of a respiratory virus. Missing out on holiday celebrations is a bummer, but thankfully we know by now that we can still experience some of the magic through video calls. Be well this holiday season!