With cold and flu season upon us, it can be a daunting time to take a newborn baby from the sterile confines of a hospital into the outside world where hand-washing often is neglected.

Sure, you can holler at the grocery store clerk for reaching into your baby's car seat -- and run the risk of coming across as a germaphobic, overprotective parent. Or, you can strategically place a pink or blue stop sign near your baby and let its message do the talking: "Please Wash Your Hands Before Touching Mine," it requests.

Doctors at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota believe the tags are so effective, they hand them out to every patient who leaves the neonatal intensive care unit.

"Since all newborn babies, both term and preterm, have an immature immune system, the simplest, most effective and very low-tech way to prevent infection is to wash your hands," said Mark Bergeron, neonatologist and associate director of neonatal medicine at Children's Hospital in St. Paul. "It's just one more tool to empower parents to keep their babies healthy."

As for why people have the unstoppable desire to touch new babies?

"It's human nature," Bergeron said. "It's just like reaching out to touch a puppy. They are cute and warm, and it's a sign of immediate affection."

You can buy the tags in some hospital gift stores or online (www.mytinyhands.com). Similar offerings are available from www.touchytags.com ("Are your hands clean?") and www.handsoffbaby.com ("Wash hands before touching baby").