“Dr. Linda, what can I do to strengthen my baby’s immune system and prevent illness?
Last week, we discussed the first of the two main ways to keep your baby healthy: lowering your baby’s exposure to viruses. This week, let’s discuss the second: strengthening your baby’s immune system.
The most holistic way to strengthen your baby’s immune system is through nutrition
Strengthening your Baby’s Immune System through Nutrition
A strong immune system not only prevents colds but makes it easier for your baby to recover from a cold or sickness. A strong healthy body leads to a strong healthy immune system.
Breastfeeding is the best way to strengthen your baby’s immune system
- Breastfeeding gives your baby everything they need to grow healthy intestinal bacteria (microbiome). The microbiome is an essential part of your baby’s immune system. A healthy microbiome not only protects your baby against infections but it also helps prevent immune-mediated and metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity later in life.
- Another advantage of breastfeeding is that any antibodies you have against cold viruses are transmitted to your baby through your breastmilk and will help protect him. That’s why, even if you catch a cold while you’re breastfeeding, you don’t have to stop.When you catch a cold, your body will start making antibodies against the virus you have. These antibodies will then be transferred to your baby through your breastmilk and protect him baby against the infection! Just be careful to use the precautions to lower your baby’s exposure to viruses.
Foods to strengthen your baby’s immune system
Once your baby is old enough to eat solid food, around 6 months of age, you can start using food to strengthen your baby’s immune system.
Vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits are full of antioxidants, vitamins, and sulphuric compounds — all of which strengthen your baby’s immune system.
Vitamins A, E and C, Polyphenols (the compounds that give color to fruits and vegetables), Selenium (found in broccoli and nuts) and sulfuric compounds (in brussels sprouts, cabbage, chives, kale, leeks, onions, and shallots) are all essential to strengthen your baby’s immune system.
Of all the Vitamins, Vitamin C has gotten the most attention because it not only seems to prevent colds but it also shortens the length of a cold once a baby has it.
- Vegetables high in Vitamin C include peas, bell peppers, green leafy vegetables.
- Fruits high in Vitamin C include tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit, lemon, kiwi, papaya, and berries.
- Fruits are high in sugar, which can cause blood sugar swings as well as inflammation in your baby’s body, so it is better to give your baby more vegetables than fruits
- When you do give your baby fruit give him whole fruit rather than the juice because the fiber in the fruit will keep your baby’s blood sugar from spiking.
Essential fatty acids
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are fatty acids your baby’s body can’t make on its own so he has to get them through the diet. Giving your baby EFAs is a great way to strengthen your baby’s immune system.
If you are breastfeeding make sure you are getting enough EFAs so that you can transmit them to your baby through your breastmilk. If your baby is eating a full diet one serving of low-mercury fatty fish like sardines, anchovies, mackerel or tuna three times a week will give your baby the EFAs he needs.
Probiotics are live bacteria which support the healthy functioning of the intestinal tract immune system( microbiome). Lactobacillus rhamnosis, Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium animalis are the probiotics which have been scientifically proven to prevent colds.So look for these as you research sources of probiotics to strengthen your baby’s immune system.
Sources of Probiotics:
Fermented foods are the best sources of healthy probiotics:
- Yogurt with active cultures.
- Homemade pickles (made without vinegar).
Probiotics are safe for most babies. However, if your baby meets any of the below criteria consult your doctor before using probiotics to strengthen your baby’s immune system
- Your baby is very premature
- Your baby has an immune system problem
- Your baby is on medicines which would suppress his immune system, such as steroids or chemotherapy
- Your baby has a sensitivity to lactose (lactobacillus) or yeasts
Garlic both prevents colds and shortens the length of colds. Use a lot of garlic while cooking during cold and flu season. Chicken soup made with chicken bones, garlic, onions, leeks and ginger is a healthy, great tasting way to strengthen your baby’s immune system.
Good hydration is key to the optimal functioning of your baby’s immune system because it is key to the optimal functioning of his body.
Give your child ½ ounce for every pound of body weight, or 30ml for every kilogram of body weight, of clean filtered water every day.
Is a trace metal which is important in the functioning of our immune system. The safest way to add Zinc to your baby’s diet is to add foods high in Zinc
- Pumpkin seeds (ground if baby is less than 4 years old)
- Grass-fed beef
- Cashews (ground up if your baby is less than 4 years old)
- Yogurt or kefir
Vitamin D plays an important role in strengthening your baby’s immune system. Low Vitamin D levels lead to an increased susceptibility to infections. If you are concerned that your baby may be low in Vitamin D, have your doctor check his Vitamin D level. In the meantime, add the following natural-Vitamin D food sources to your baby’s diet.
- Fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon
- Dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals that are fortified with Vitamin D
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
Herbs to strengthen your baby’s immune system:
- Chamomile tea may have some benefit in preventing colds and reducing symptoms in colds
- Most herbs used in adults to help with colds such as Andrographis, Astragalus, Ginseng, and Echinacea have not yet been studied in babies and children. Their safety and effectiveness are unknown.
Other ways to strengthen your baby’s immune system
- Avoid giving your baby foods that can cause inflammation especially sugar
- Foods high in sugars such as juices, cookies, and candy cause swings in blood sugar which can cause inflammation in your baby’s body.
- High blood sugar makes white blood cells less affective at fighting bacteria and inflammation weakens the immune system.
- Make sure your baby gets enough sleep
- Take your baby out in nature. It’s not exposure to cold temperatures that make babies sick, its exposure to people and objects that carry viruses.
- Give your older baby and child time to exercise, run, and play. Moderate exercise increases the number of macrophages, which fight off viruses.
- Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic used to prevent Influenza.According to a Cochrane review, it shortens the duration of symptoms but doesn’t reliably prevent infection. I use it for myself and my kids as well as in my practice and have had good results with it with no side effects.
- Make taking care of yourself a priority. When you’re healthy, you’re less likely to get infections that you may bring home to the baby.
- Consciously affirm that you and your family are healthy and will stay healthy through cold and Flu season. We create our experiences of reality with our words and beliefs. Try this, even if it doesn’t help, it can’t hurt.