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5 ways to boost your child’s immune system this winter

Young boy with a cold sneezing into a tissueWinter. I’m already over it!

I look bleakly at the endless array of medical concoctions that occupy my kitchen bench … children’s paracetamol, ibuprofen, ear drops, nasal spray, saline, eucalyptus oil and an extensive variety of cough medicines.

I can’t wait to pack them back away into the medicine cabinet. Unfortunately though… it doesn’t look like they’ll be returning to their regular home any time soon! Everywhere I seem to go children are coughing, splattering and battling with runny noses and ear infections.

The cold and flu season is definitely upon us, and it seems like it has started with a bang!

After a rough start to winter, I wonder how I can help prevent my children getting sick this winter. Home schooling for the next three months? Hibernation?!

After a series of long, hard nights administering cough medicine, checking temperatures, distributing water, cleaning up runny noses and distributing cuddles. A stroke of genius came to me at 3am! Yes… a child- friendly quarantine suit! A suit that will allow my children to play, attend school and lead a relatively normal life, yet protect them from the endless barrage of bacterial and viral droplets that are teeming their preschool and school environments.

With hindsight and a few more hours of sleep I was able to see that my idea was highly unfeasible and most likely driven by mad exhaustion! In the clear light of day I was able to realise that isolating and embarrassing my children is not really very “child-friendly” at all, and more importantly that exposure to a certain degree of bacteria and virus actually helps my children strengthen their immune systems.

So I figure I can’t isolate them completely, but I can better equip their bodies to fight these infections and viruses. These infections and viruses are somewhat an inevitable part of them growing up. In fact, experts consider 6-7 colds, flu or ear infections per year as normal for the average child.

Here a five tips that can help boost your children’s immune systems and better prepare them to fight infections and viruses this winter.

5 ways to help boost your child’s immune system

1. Ensure they’re eating a healthy diet

One of the best ways to boost your child’s immune system is through your child’s diet. A healthy balanced diet with a rich variety of fruits and vegetables will greatly assist in strengthening your child’s ability to fight infections and viruses. It is very important to avoid fatty, sugary and highly processed foods during this time, as it’s believed that they work to suppress the body’s immune response.

When flu or cold hit be sure in increase the intake of fruits and vegetables as they contain phytonutrients. Fruit and veggies are packed with vital vitamins and minerals that are critical to ward off infection. Increase your child’s intake of fruit and veggies containing Vitamin C (some examples of these include; carrots, strawberries, kiwi fruit, sweet potatoes, legumes, oranges/mandarins, broccoli.) As well as increasing the intake of these, it is recommended that you increase the intake of foods containing Vitamin D (tuna, cereals, oats, eggs, and oily fish such as salmon).

Research suggests that increasing the intake of probiotics during winter assists in warding off illnesses. Probiotics can assist in promoting the growth of good bacteria in your toddler’s gut, which in turn strengthen your toddler’s digestive system and better shield them from bacteria and viruses. Some foods continuing probiotics include: yoghurt (with probiotics), banana, cabbage, garlic, and tomatoes.

Low levels of zinc and/or iron can also contribute to a reduced immune response by your toddler. Ensure that he/she eats enough food that contains these critical minerals. Some examples of food containing Zinc include: meat, milk, cheese. Iron rich foods include: meat (especially red meat), nuts, beans, dried apricots, spinach, and wholegrains like brown rice.

2. Keep breastfeeding your baby

Human milk provides all the nutrients, protein, sugar, and fat your baby needs to be healthy for the first six months of life. Breast milk is full of a number of special ingredients that boost baby’s immune system. These include: immunoglobulin A, antibodies, enzymes and white blood cells. All these components of breast milk serve to protect baby. Breastfeeding a newborn greatly assists in strengthening baby’s inexperienced immune system to fight off infections but these benefits exist long after you have weaned baby.  Studies have shown that babies who have been breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months have better functioning immune systems compared to formula-fed babies in the long term as well.

3. Teach good personal hygiene

Teach your child to wash their hands effectively. Teach your child to wash with soap for 10 seconds, rinse and then dry their hands properly. Also remind your child to wash his/her hands as soon as they are picked up from school. Teach your child to avoid touching their face; especially nose, eyes and mouth. As they are the entry points for flu and cold. Also explain to your toddler that they must avoid sharing bottles, straws, spoons etc. And, of course, remind them to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, to use tissues (not their sleeves!) to wipe their noses, and to dispose of tissues properly.

4. Exercise regularly

Research indicates that regular exercise boosts circulation and increases the production of infection-fighting cells. Exercise outdoors also allows your child to get some extra vitamin D which greatly assists in boosting your child’s immunity. Exercise also improves sleep, which is another important factor that affects your child’s immunity. So encourage your child to go outdoors and run around for at least half an hour to one hour a day.

5. Get enough sleep

It is suggested that the average toddler must have 10-12 hours of sleep a day (13-15 hours for baby). Research indicates that sleep deprivation nearly doubles the risk of getting a flu or cold. Ensuring your child is getting enough hours of decent sleep and rest will assist in boosting your child’s ability to fight off infection.

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