Great tips for keeping infants healthy during the winter months

A healthy immune system is the key to preventing sickness. No matter how hard you work to keep little germs out of little bodies, some bacteria and viruses find their way in. So, your next line of defense is to build your child’s immune-fighting army to better fight these germs. Here’s how:

Breastfeed as long as possible

Mother makes “medicines” for her baby. A baby’s immune system is weakest in the first nine months. Naturally, that’s when Dr. Mom makes “medicines” to fight against baby’s germs. Each drop of mother’s milk contains over a million infection-fighting white blood cells in addition to immunoglobulins — proteins that coat the gut and act like a protective paint to keep the germs out of the rest of baby’s body. With each feeding, baby gets a dose of custom-made medicines. Special medicines in mother’s milk feed baby’s growing gut garden, called baby’s microbiome, a community of friendly bacteria that inhabit the gut and, in return for a warm place to live, crowd out the harmful bacteria. Moms, here’s an exciting new discovery. The “medicine” in your milk is appropriately called M.O.M. — milk-oriented microbiota. Imagine baby saying, “I love M.O.M.!”

Wear your baby

A sling keeps baby nestled safely next to your chest and prevents strangers from touching your baby and exposing them to germs.

Feed your child immune-boosting foods

Some of the best immune boosting foods include wild salmon, blueberries and vitamin-C-rich foods such as fruits and veggies (strawberries, papaya, cantaloupe, kiwi, broccoli and spinach). Yogurt is a yummy immune-booster, supplying babies’ immature intestines with probiotics that help grow the gut garden and mature the immune system. Also, be sure to minimize sugar and junk food, which weaken the immune system. Consuming 8 tablespoons of sugar in a short period of time, the equivalent of two 12-ounce cans of soda, can suppress a child’s immune system by reducing the ability of white blood cells to kill germs.

Here’s an observation from my medical practice “laboratory.” I have noticed a group of mothers who seldom let a morsel of junk food enter their homes or the mouths of their children, and I have noticed that I don’t need to see the children of these moms as often in the preschool years because they are sick less often than those who regularly eat junk food. And when these children do get sick, they recover sooner because their immune systems work better.

Feed your child immune-boosting fats

Omega-3 fats, particularly those found in cold-water fish such as wild salmon, sardines and Alaskan halibut, are valuable immune boosters that also help the overall health of just about every organ of the body. Feed your child at least one child-size fistful of cold-water fish two times a week. If cold-water fish like salmon are not available to you, give your child a high-quality omega-3 supplement.

Get moving

Take your toddler outside to play, and get dirty! Movement, especially while enjoying nature, mobilizes the immune system, increasing protection against germs. Exercise prompts NK (natural killer) cells, the body’s germ-fighting soldiers, to fight better. A 1989 study in the British Medical Journal changed how we think about germs. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine set out to discover why the steadily increasing percentage of people with allergies, such as eczema and hay fever, seemed to parallel population shifts from “dirty” rural farms to “cleaner” city factories. Their findings set “germology” on a dirtier course. They found that farm-raised kids whose mothers told them not only to go outside and play, but let them get dirty, had a lower incidence of allergic diseases, probably because they developed a healthier microbiome during that critical window of early years when their immune system was maturing.

Teach manners

Germs are spread through hand-to-hand contact or coughed into the air. Teach your children to wash their hands frequently and cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Show and tell children how — and why — it’s important: “When you sneeze or cough, tiny droplets of mucus, like tiny balloons, carry germs from your nose and throat through the air and other children may breathe them in and get sick…” Show them how to use hands or a tissue to cover their nose and mouth, then wash their hands and throw away the tissue. Or, use the “cold shoulder” technique by teaching your children to cough or sneeze against their shoulder by bringing their arm up over the nose and mouth.

Keep immunizations and medical checkups up-to-date

Be sure your child’s immunizations are current. If in doubt, call your health-care provider to find out.

Enjoy these tips to help your kids and their germs play well together.

Shake out the germs

 

Try this immune-boosting smoothie (I call it “schoolade”) from the Sears family kitchen. Each morning I made a huge smoothie for our children containing the following foods, which have been scientifically shown to boost immunity:

  • A handful of fruits, such as blueberries, papaya, bananas, kiwi, strawberries and avocado
  • Ginger
  • Hawaiian spirulina
  • Cinnamon
  • Figs
  • A tablespoon of flax oil
  • A handful of organic kale
  • A cup of organic Greek yogurt
  • Protein powder that contains the recommended daily amounts of important vitamins and minerals.

Mix these with whatever nutritious liquid your child enjoys, such as kefir, pomegranate juice, goat’s milk or coconut milk. Blend and serve immediately while the smoothie has a milkshake consistency.

Bill Sears, M.D., is a father of eight and the author of 42 books on family health, including The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. A practicing pediatrician for over 40 years, he is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. Dr. Sears is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a fellow of the Royal College of Pediatricians (RCP).