We took our son to a restaurant for the first time when he was five. Five days old, that is. Based on the gasps I've heard when telling that story since, I guess that was too soon.

We took our son to a restaurant for the first time when he was five. Five days old, that is. Based on the gasps I've heard when telling that story since, I guess that was too soon. It actually worked out great. He slept peacefully in his carrier while my wife and I enjoyed our first real meal after enduring four days of hospital food. The only potential problem: Everyone else in the restaurant. "Babies can go outside of the house at any age," even in their first week, said Dr. Nicole Caldwell, an ambulatory pediatrics physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "The issue is taking a newborn out into a crowded public place where there's potential exposure to germs." For the first four to six weeks of life, a baby just doesn't have a mature immune system, Caldwell said, and they're more at risk for the development of serious bacterial infections. For instance, the virus that causes the common cold in adults can make a newborn very sick with bronchiolitis. If a newborn younger than four to six weeks comes into a doctor's office with a fever, they may have to suffer through a rule-out sepsis workup - you know, a blood culture, chest X-ray and spinal tap - to make sure the baby doesn't have meningitis. No restaurant is worth that risk. Caldwell recommends avoiding crowded public places during your baby's first four weeks. If you do visit a restaurant, use common sense: Keep your baby in his carrier away from other diners' sneezing and coughing. "Of course we all live in the real world and it's kind of hard to stay completely homebound," Caldwell said, and parents can use their best judgment when making quick field trips. "But just taking a five-minute jaunt to the grocery or the bank is a little different from taking your child to a very crowded movie theater or mall during the height of flu season." Fortunately, our son didn't catch anything during his restaurant visits as a newborn - in fact, I think he likes dining out as much as his parents. Unfortunately, now that he's six months old with octopus arms that grab everything in sight, our restaurant days are over for a while.