I is for Immunity.
Of all the queries I have read on mommy support groups and forums, I think “How to boost my child’s immunity” has been a primary concern. I too took immunity for granted until a terrible viral infection hit our house (yes, I say house because we all fell victim to it, one by one) and that too just in time for babyT’s first Diwali, which we were looking forward to so eagerly. 🙁 Of course when we were under the spell it was difficult to do much to boost immunity but I did read up a great deal on it and made small attempts to inculcate the habits. Here is what I learned about immunity and how we can boost it for babies and toddlers:
- Breastmilk – Mother’s milk provides newborns and infants with a vital shot of antibodies (which the mother herself has built up over course of her life) and is therefore liquid gold for babies whose immunity is still to develop. Medical experts and even international bodies like the World Health Organization now advocate breastfeeding for at least the first two years of a child’s life. While this may not be possible/ feasible for everyone due to various constraints, it is beneficial for baby to have at least some breast-milk rather than none. If you would like to more about breast-milk and how it builds immunity, read this article here by the breastfeeding gurus at Kelly Mom.
Also latest research has shown that mother’s milk has the unique ability to pick up signs and symptoms of infection in breastfed babies and her body then customizes the breast milk with specific antibodies to help baby fight off the infection. We did see that when babyT was down with colds or the dreaded viral, he used to drink breast milk with increased gusto. I have witnessed even the nastiest of colds would almost disappear overnight with the increased breast milk that he was taking in. 🙂
And with advance in research and product innovation today, it is even possible to feed babies breast-milk without actually feeding at the breast. Breast pumps have given lactating mothers the freedom to pump milk and build a supply to feed baby when they are physically not around; read: away at work or just out for a evening out with friends (living their lives basically) without feeling the need to wean babies earlier than needed. This would only contribute to building better immunity for children.
- Don’t rush for the antibiotics – As parents we really don’t like to and wish to see our tender little babies suffer when they are hit with a bout of cold or viral. So we tend to rush to the doctor and sometimes even request her to prescribe some medicines which will make the child better quickly. And at times doctors resort to this by prescribing antibiotics which kill the viruses, without giving your body the opportunity to naturally build antibodies and thus fight off the viruses on its own. In effect the antibiotics have actually managed to suppress the body’s ability to fight minor ailments. It is another concern altogether that colds are caused by viruses and antibiotics actually work on bacteria and hence only effective when the viral infection leads to you catching a secondary bacterial infection. This is how newer strains of viruses are emerging which are resistant to the existing set of drugs. Most colds which manifest as sore throats, runny nose and a cough are caused by a virus and the body can usually fight this off on its own. Don’t be in a hurry to ask for antibiotics and definitely don’t self-medicate.
- Avoid oversterilization – Sterilizing baby bottles, feeding gear, high chair etc. are all good practices. But there is something called over sterilization which can be detrimental too. Creating a highly sterile environment around baby (toys, books, furniture around the house) is actually not necessary and somewhat stems from the same philosophy as point no.2 above. Sterilizing was very important when the quality of water used to wash or cook baby items was suspect. However a good wash and rinse with hot water & mild detergent should suffice for cleaning the grimiest of baby things. Children who grow up in sterile and highly clean environments develop a hypersensitive immune systems and fall prey to viruses very easily. So keep the expensive sterilization equipment and detergents at bay.
Don’t however ignore the need to sterilize if baby is premature, weak or recovering from an infection or has been in an environment where someone else has been sick.
- Let their hands get dirty – Kids have a natural tendency to put the dirtiest of objects into their mouth. Read: shoes, dirt, mud etc. While I am certainly not saying we should allow them a free hand to chew on shoes and other unhygienic objects, we shouldn’t restrict them when it comes to spending time outdoors, playing in the sand and mud. In fact research now shows that early exposure to mud, germs and pets actually goes towards building their immunity by exposing them to microbes and reduces the chance of allergies and asthma.
#BabyT loves picking food off the floor and eating it, especially his evening snacks. *Sigh* While I used to lose all my calm and patience at this earlier, I have now resigned to the fact that I am in fact building his immunity. 🙂
- Exposure to Vitamin D – Exposure to the sun and therefore vitamin D, not only goes towards building healthy bones and teeth, but also builds babies’s immune systems.
- Food sources of building immunity – I am going to let the expert do the talking here. Meet Priya Kathpal an expert nutritionist and my lovely friend I met online, who is my go to guide for all things food and health. Priya says, “Breastmilk is the primary and major source of all the nourishment that a baby needs till about he/she is a year old. This also includes the immunity boosting nutrients that the body needs to fight against various types of infections. Having said this one cannot forget that the second best source that helps build immunity is wholesome food, which in later years will take over from breast-milk to continue giving the same benefits. Most important nutrients for immunity are vitamin A, C, proteins, probiotics and good quality fats. To make sure these are included in a baby’s diet it’s important to offer a variety of foods and I would recommend giving seasonal fruits and vegetables as they are packed with immunity building nutrition. Some examples of food that can be included are deep coloured fresh produce. Mangoes, pumpkin, carrots, citrus fruits, lemon, cabbage, bell peppers, guava, are great too. Then come fish, walnuts, almonds, yogurt/curds, apples, kefir. Probiotics can also be given in form of supplements but that’s usually recommended for certain medical condition where strong antibiotics are prescribed or dairy cannot be offered. These are prescribed by and taken under doctor’s supervision.” Priya runs her successful nutrition consultancy at Nutrify and can always be counted on to give relevant and simple solutions to all your nutritional needs. 🙂
I would love to hear any new thoughts and practices on how you contribute to building immunity for your babies and toddlers. Do leave a comment if you liked reading this post and don’t forget to share too. 🙂