The CDC's new guidelines for the widespread use of nonmedical masks to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 are clear in some ways and decidedly vague in others. Even healthy people should wear them while out in public. Kids should wear them as best they can, too. But what about toddlers? And what about babies?
Should Babies Wear Masks?
Doctors are working to make it clear that the universal masking recommendation does not apply to everyone, particularly infants or very young children.
"The American Academy of Pediatrics states clearly that babies should not wear masks," Rebekah Wheeler, a registered nurse and certified midwife who is a lead adviser for Cleo, told POPSUGAR. "Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance."
For infants, it's because of a potential risk to breathing. Just as babies shouldn't be placed on their stomachs to sleep because their airway could become blocked without them ever waking up to right themselves, the same can be said for face coverings like masks – they could unknowingly restrict oxygen to the baby, who won't likely be able to remove it.
Should Toddlers Wear Masks?
Toddlers, those children under two years of age, are also advised to not wear them because they are likely more ineffective.
"Some say that children even under three do not need to be masked given the difficulties of keeping a mask on," Dr. Chitra Akileswaran – the cofounder of Cleo, a resource for working parents – said.
How Do We Keep Babies Safe Outside?
So, if our youngest children can't wear masks, how do we keep them safe from the coronavirus?
Wheeler maintains that masks aren't worn to keep the person wearing it safe. "Masks are mostly to protect others from folks with the virus, not to protect us from getting it," she said. Still, she outlined options for reducing the risk of exposure to your baby while out in public:
- Limit unnecessary public contact.
- If you are wearing your baby, have them positioned with their face toward you.
- If your baby is in a stroller, consider positioning the seat so the baby is inward-facing. Cover it with a clear plastic rain cover or the awning down. You could also cover it with a light blanket under which they can breath comfortably, like you would if it were a sunny day.
- If your baby is being transported in a car seat, carry it with a breathable cover on, but remove it if the car seat is in the car or you can't see your baby.
- When you return home, wash your hands before taking your baby out of the carrier or stroller.
- Wash dummies and "lovies" as often as possible.
All of these qualifications might make some new parents wonder if they should be taking their baby outside at all.
"This is an incredibly personal choice," Wheeler said. "Different parents will be comfortable with different levels of risk, and some, like solo parents, will not always have a choice."
To that end, she reminds parents that the CDC's mask guidelines aren't for brief outdoor encounters. "It is not recommending masks if you're going outside briefly, like a walk around the block or in your own backyard," she said. "Masks are recommended for kids for grocery runs and the like, or for times when a child needs to come with you somewhere." The same thought process, she said, can be applied to carrier and stroller precautions for babies.