Runny noses, coughs, flu, tummy bugs – it might seem like getting sick is an unavoidable part of childhood. But there are healthy habits you can adopt to give your child’s immune system a boost and help them avoid getting sick. Find out more below.
- How To Boost The Immune System
- How To Build The Immune System After Illness
- Food Allergies
- Raising A Child With Food Allergies
The immune system is the body’s own defense against illness, so helping your child to develop and maintain a strong immune system is important – especially when they hit nursery or pre-school age and are coming into contact with lots of other children.
Allergies are an abnormal reaction of the immune system to a particular allergen. If your child has an allergy, this is something that requires careful management, with the help of their doctor.
If you’re concerned about your child’s immunity there are some natural steps that you can take to boost it.
HOW TO BOOST THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
The three core environmental influencers of a child’s immune system include:
These three natural immune boosters can help to develop and maintain a healthy and strong immune system, which will work to fight illness caused by the germs your child is exposed to on a daily basis.
Good nutrition is important for any child and plays a key role in keeping the immune system functioning effectively. From age one, your child should be eating a balanced diet – building on the healthy starter foods offered during weaning.
- Vitamin A – dairy such as cheese, milk and yogurt, eggs, oily fish (such as mackerel), fortified margarine
- Vitamin C – red pepper, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, green pepper, broccoli, strawberries
- Vitamin E – plant oils such as olive oil, nuts and seeds, wheat germ found in cereals and cereal products
- Prebiotics – raw chicory root, raw Jerusalem artichoke, raw garlic, onion, banana, prebiotic fortified dairy such as some yogurt
You may find it difficult to get some of the above immune boosters into your child’s diet – especially some of the raw foods on the prebiotics list. This is where Aptamil’s growing-up milk (from one to three years) can offer peace of mind to parents, as each milk has been carefully formulated to include the right mix of nutrients for your child’s stage of development.
Not getting enough good quality sleep can weaken your child’s immune system, so try to encourage them to get the right amount. While every child is different, here’s a general guide to how much sleep each age group needs, according to the US National Sleep Foundation:
While bedtimes can often be a challenge for parents, there are numerous things that you can do to help your child get a good night’s rest, including:
- Aim for a bedtime that reflects the above chart to avoid sending your child to bed when they’re either not sleepy or over-tired
- Start winding down well before bedtime with a good bedtime routine
- Limit screen-time in the evenings
- Ensure that the bed and bedroom are comfortable and at the right temperature
- Think about lighting – use lamps before bedtime (and during the night) and install black-out blinds to encourage your child to sleep longer
Exercise has been shown to boost the cells’ ability to fight off illness, so encouraging your child to be active from a young age will help to keep them healthy.
The NHS guidelines on activity are that a toddler should be active every day for at least 180 minutes, and a child under five shouldn’t be inactive for any long periods (except for sleep) during the day. Most parents will be well aware that children under five usually love to be active, whether that’s through play or just running (or crawling) around and exploring their world – so meeting this quota shouldn’t be difficult. There are hundreds of ways for a child to get active, including:
- Playing games (such as hide and seek, chase etc)
- Playing in the park, garden or a soft play centre
- Running around
- Bouncing on a trampoline
- Riding a bike or scooter
- Organized sports or activities (like football or gymnastics)
HOW TO BUILD THE IMMUNE SYSTEM AFTER ILLNESS
Having read the above, it stands to reason that the best ways to help build your child’s immune system after illness is to ensure that they’re getting the right nutrition, enough good-quality sleep, and are being as active as they feel able (never push a child to exercise after illness if they still feel they need to rest). Offering healthy immunity-boosting snacks is one easy answer to how to improve immune system strength, so stock your cupboards with the following:
- Yogurts fortified with prebiotics
- Walnuts – a source of omega-3 fatty acids
- Fruit and veg – especially those high in vitamin C
- Lean meat – a source of protein and zinc
While building your child’s immunity through a healthy, balanced diet is the preferred option, illness can affect appetite. Supplements are available to ensure that your child gets the right immunity boosting nutrients.
“If you’re considering supplements or any other kind of medicine for immunity in kids, you should consult with your child’s doctor first.”
A food allergy is a reaction of the immune system to certain foods. Children can suffer from food allergies, so you should introduce new foods gradually when weaning and watch carefully for any signs of an adverse reaction.
The most common food allergens in children include:
- Egg allergy
- Milk allergy
- Peanut allergy
- Tree nut allergy (i.e. almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios and pine nuts)
- Fish allergy
- Shellfish allergy
A true food allergy can have symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening, so you should seek immediate medical advice if you have any concerns about your child and food allergies.
What Is Gluten Intolerance?
You often hear about people being allergic to gluten, however, gluten allergy is not medically recognized at present.
“Symptoms that occur after eating gluten could be due to an intolerance to gluten, an intolerance to wheat, a disease called coeliac disease, or something else entirely.”
RAISING A CHILD WITH FOOD ALLERGIES
Raising a child with food allergies can be challenging. Your primary concern as a parent will naturally be to keep your child safe from harm, and protecting a child from a food allergy is something that you have to consider on a daily basis – especially as they get older and start spending more time away from home and in the care of others.
The four-point plan to protecting a child with a food allergy is:
1 – Identify
Identifying the allergen is the first step. Your child’s doctor should be able to confirm a food allergy and offer further advice.
2 – Educate
Educating your child and anyone he or she comes in contact with is important. Some food allergies can be life-threatening, so it’s vital that anyone your child spends time with is aware of the allergy, the potential symptoms and how to treat an allergic reaction.
3 – Avoid
Avoiding the allergen is key to avoiding an allergic reaction. But this can sometimes be difficult, especially in the case of ‘hidden ingredients’ that may not be obvious without reading the ingredients list, potential cross-contamination, or if your child is eating outside of the home.
4 – Treat
Of course, if your child has a food allergy you need to have an emergency treatment plan in place, in case they do come into contact with their allergen. This will vary depending on the allergy and the severity of the allergy. Your child’s doctor will be able to advise.
As mentioned above, a food intolerance, such as a gluten intolerance that you may assume to be a gluten allergy, is less severe and can usually be controlled by avoiding the food that causes the symptoms. Keeping a food diary can be useful for identifying an intolerance, but, as a balanced diet is crucial for child development, it’s important not to make any radical changes to your child’s diet without first consulting with their doctor.