Health & Wellness Child Developement
10 ways to build immunity in infants & toddlers
Most parents find that once their child starts attending day care or pre-school, he or she starts falling sick more often. Colds, cough, flu, conjunctivitis and HFMD (hand, foot and mouth disease) are just a few of the common culprits. Immunisation is an important and effective tool to protect children from serious illnesses. However, there are additional ways to strengthen immunity among children to reduce their chances of falling ill.
- Follow breastfeeding recommendations: Breastmilk contains antibodies and white blood cells that will aid your child's immune system to fight against infectious diseases even years after your child has stopped being breastfed. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies until 6 months of age.
- Focus on a healthy diet: Build immunity boosting foods into your child's diet. Essential nutrients can be obtained by having a wholesome diet. Here are some examples of immunity-boosting foods:
- Fruits and veggies like oranges, bell peppers, broccoli, and strawberries are high in vitamin C content. Vitamin C helps in building white blood cells and provides a cell coating acting as a barrier against viruses.
- In case your child is not a fruit or a vegetable lover, then whip up some fruit smoothies or vegetable pies.
- Nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains contain omega fatty acids that reduce inflammation and boost the immune systems response against infections.
- Yoghurt is full of probiotics and is a great immune booster for kids. It strengthens the intestinal tract in children to prevent gastrointestinal illnesses.
- Avoid processed foods and added sugar which can weaken the immune system.
- Ensure adequate sleep: Ensure your child is getting adequate sleep. It is recommended that newborns sleep between 14 to 17 hours, infants between 12 to 15 hours, and toddlers between 11 to 14 hours. As children grow, their sleeping pattern changes and they tend to sleep less. However, ensure that there is a set routine that lets your child have adequate sleep.
- Exercise together: Studies show that kids who have adequate exercise recover from illnesses more quickly. Encourage your child to take up a sport, or as a family you can develop a habit of exercising together. This is a good way to stay fit as well as to build a bond with your children.
- Reduce screen time: Too much screen time can make your child lethargic and less active, putting him at risk for increased body fat, type II diabetes, and hypertension. The recommended daily limit of screen time is two hours for children over the age of two.
- Promote good hygiene: Good hygiene habits go a long way in preventing your child from getting sick. Ingrain habits like washing hands after using the toilet, avoid touching eyes with unwashed hands, brushing teeth twice daily, and washing hands before and after meals.
- Keep your home a smoke-free environment: Cigarette smoke consists of more than 4,000 toxins which can irritate or kill body cells. Second-hand smoke affects children more than adults as they breathe at a faster rate, increasing the risk of bronchitis and ear infections. It is advisable to quit smoking as parents, and in case it is not possible, do ensure that you do not smoke at home or around your child.
- Pay attention to their mental and emotional well-being: Love and attention promotes a strong immune system. Children need to be hugged, cuddled, and kissed regularly to make them feel secure and happy. Emotional stress and unhappiness can deplete the immune system and can make your child more prone to illnesses.
- Don't over-rely on antibiotics: When your child is sick, all you want is for him to feel better as soon as possible. However, do not pressurise your doctor to prescribe antibiotics whenever your child is sick with a cold or the flu, as it puts them at risk to side-effects as well as makes them more vulnerable to infections in the long run. Studies have shown that antibiotic resistant infections are on the rise among children aged 1-5.
- Expose them to mother nature: Plenty of fresh air is good for your child's health. Let them run, jump, walk barefoot in the grass and spend time outdoors. Just as a child's brain needs stimulation, input, and interaction to develop normally, the young immune system is strengthened by exposure to everyday germs so that it can learn, adapt, and regulate itself, notes Thom McDade, PhD, associate professor and director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at North-western University
Having a child fall sick is a part of life that every parent will have to deal with. However, prevention is the key to fighting many infectious diseases. Letting your children lead a healthy, active life can ensure their immune system will be better equipped to fight infections at bay.
Please note that these are not substitutes for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your paediatrician regarding specific questions.
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