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Reality Check: Kiss Off

Q. My husband's family kisses babies on the mouth and picks them up without washing their hands. How can I keep my relatives from doing that to my baby without offending them?

It's safe to bet that you'll relax your standards over time. Gradually, all new parents come to see that their baby isn't as fragile as they thought; that try as they might, they can't ward off all germs (nor should they, if they want their child to develop a healthy immune system); and that while personal hygiene is important, so is affection, particularly from family members.

Philosophically, I'm with you, especially on the issue of kissing babies on the lips. But there's a cultural divide here: What seems inappropriate to you and me seems natural and sweet to them. So while you may be able to protect your newborn from unwashed hands, it could prove much harder to protect her from Grandma's pucker.

The best way to go: Blame it all on yourself. Say something like "I know I sound like a nervous mom, but I want to keep Lila healthy, so I'm asking everyone to wash their hands before holding her and to kiss her on her cheeks instead of her mouth." Not even your Aunt Sadie can be insulted by such a request.

Still, it may not stop her lip locking. If the mouth kissing continues, then close your eyes so you don't have to watch -- your baby will benefit from that extended-family mushiness. Just stick to cheek kissing and hand washing at home, and your child will eventually adopt those habits too. By the time she's old enough to show or tell people what she wants, she'll handle the kissers herself, either by turning her cheek discreetly or by saying straight out how she'd like her relatives to show her affection. Believe me: Her, they'll listen to.