Pregnancy

Should Babies Wear a Mask?

In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people 2 years old and up wear face masks in public settings and when around those who don’t live in their household. Face masks should be worn in addition to other safety measures, such as social distancing and diligent hand washing.

Wearing face masks in public settings is important, since studies show that a significant number of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t have symptoms, but can still transmit the virus to others.

If you’re the parent of a young child, the CDC’s recommendation might raise some questions, such as: Why can’t babies and young toddlers wear face masks? And how should your little ones stay safe in public without a mask? 

Should babies and toddlers wear face masks in public?

If your child is under the age of 2, the CDC specifically says he shouldn’t wear a face mask, likely because it could be a choking hazard, says Ashanti Woods, M.D., a pediatrician at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center.

“Anyone who is wearing a mask should be able to remove the mask, and that’s not a guarantee when you’re under 2 years of age,” Dr. Woods says.

When deciding whether children or people with certain disabilities can wear a mask, the CDC recommends considering whether they can wear it properly, avoid frequently touching their face, limit drooling or sucking on the mask, and remove it without help.

Young children aren’t able to vocalize if they can’t breathe well. “If they have trouble breathing while wearing the mask, they can’t tell you they’re having trouble breathing,” says Patricia Garcia, M.D., a pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s hospital. 

What’s more, many babies and toddlers would likely try to remove a face mask if one was put on. 

How should babies and toddlers stay safe in public settings?

In a perfect world, if there was a large outbreak of COVID-19 in your area, you’d keep your child away from public places like the grocery store or pharmacy.

“The best option is to avoid taking your kids anywhere crowded,” Dr. Garcia says.

But of course, that’s often simply not possible. If you have to take your young child in public, experts say it’s a good idea to take the following precautions:

  • Wear your baby. If your child is still small enough to fit in a baby carrier, face him toward you and try to keep him close to your body, Dr. Woods says.
  • Carry your baby in his car seat with a cover. It can be heavy to tote your child around in their seat, but covering the car seat with a breathable fabric can help, says Julia Sammons, M.D., medical director of the Department of Infection Prevention and Control at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
  • Push your child in his stroller with a cover. If you have a plastic rain cover for your stroller, Dr. Woods says that’s a good option. If not, a breathable fabric can also work.
  • Put your stroller awning down. If you don’t have a stroller cover or forgot a covering, putting your stroller’s awning down is better than nothing, says Daniel S. Ganjian, M.D., F.A.A.P., a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

What types of face masks should kids 2 and up wear?

The CDC recommends that children 2 and up wear a face mask, specifically something that meets these guidelines:

  • Fits snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Is secured with ties or ear loops
  • Includes multiple layers of fabric
  • Allows for breathing without restriction
  • Is able to be laundered and machine-dried without damage or change to its shape

Need some ideas? Here are some of our favorite masks for toddlers and young children.

Of course, even with the right mask on hand, it can be tough to get kids to actually wear it. Giving your child ownership of their mask can help, too, Dr. Ganjian says. “Get a cloth mask that they can color on or that has a design they like,” he says. 

Additionally, you can get your child a mask that matches yours and talk about how you’re a team. “You can also come up with an incentive afterward,” Dr. Ganjian says.

Visit whattoexpect.com/news for the latest updates on COVID-19 as it relates to pregnancy and babies

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