Childhood Infectious Diseases

For nine months, baby has been quietly developing in his own little world. Then all of a sudden, this comes to an abrupt stop. He is born, and has to face the big, bright, clamouring universe where, before long, he will be on his own.

No wonder the poor little guy yells and screeches within moments of leaving his mum’s warm, cosy inside! There is nothing around him in the womb to make life difficult. There is plenty of good food to digest, coming via his blood system and thanks to the umbilical cord that attaches him to this seemingly endless supply of nourishment.

There are no germs to bug him, and there is plenty of oxygen to keep him fit and well. It is hoped that his mum is a non-smoker. Babies developing inside smoking women are deprived of much oxygen in the blood supply, and that is why these babies are often below their normal birth weight when born. Their chances of being healthy on arrival are much less – in fact many die along the way, or shortly after birth.

A baby is covered with a thick protective layer from his mother at birth. A baby’s skin is free from germs, and this layer of creamy material that looks a bit like butter (doctors call it vernix caseosa) is aimed at keeping him free from germs and invading bacteria.

But that doesn’t last for very long. It certainly does not. After his first bath, away comes the protective barrier cream. Suddenly his skin and his system in general, is exposed to the plethora of viruses and bacteria that surround us all day and night.

Within hours, he seems to have commenced his adaptation to his new environment. After a few days, he appears to be enjoying life. The transformation from his sea world to a place where he is surrounded by air, light and noise is rapid. He eats, sleeps and seems to be at peace with the world – at least for most of the time.

Luckily baby inherits a lot of protection from his mother. Otherwise he might not cope too well, especially in the first year or so of his new life.

Before birth, there is a close relationship between baby’s blood and his mother’s. Although the blood supplies are separate, and do not come into direct contact, food, oxygen and other essentials are transferred from mother’s blood to baby’s.

Among these are minute amounts of chemicals called antibodies. These are the system’s protective mechanism. Throughout life, mother has been exposed to a variety of germs and diseases. In fact, she has probably suffered from a great many, especially those that come along during childhood.

Such as measles, mumps and chickenpox? Right, plus a whole lot more. Dozens of them in fact. Each time a new infection attacks, her system has reacted and built up antibodies aimed at quelling the effect of the invading germs. Frequently, once these are in the system, they are present for keeps. That is why one attack of some illnesses (not all to be sure, but many) imparts a natural resistance to further attacks.

Fortunately, these antibodies are transferrable to the developing baby before birth. That is why, in the first 12 months after birth, baby has a remarkably high resistance to many of the common rampant childhood diseases during the first few years of life.