Our immune system is our foremost defence against infection and ailments but for a new-born, the immune system is not as ready as it is in adults and takes time to get fully-developed. But with so many viruses and bacterial infections, it is natural for a parent to be almost always worried about building a robust immune system for their little ones. To boost your young kid’s immune system right from the start, inculcating certain good hygiene habits are indispensable. In this article we shall discuss that, and other concepts of how healthy bacteria can come to one’s rescue.
Why is a strong immune system important for a young child?
Children are the most vulnerable to infections and building a healthy gut and immune system is a must. However, a notable fact here is that along the way, a parent must also not forget that each child needs a personalised approach because their individual immune system varies from another one. The Gut-associated lymphoid tissue (also called GALT) is made up of all the lymphoid tissue which is found on the walls of the intestines consisting of immune cells. The fundamental role of GALT is to manage the immune response to any antigen exposure experienced by the gut. Ultimately maintaining a potent, adaptive immune response to protect the host body (in this case, your child) from mucosal pathogens—pathogens found on the moist inner lining of the gut).
Why is a strong immune system important for a young child?
Children are the most vulnerable to infections and building a healthy gut and immune system is a must. However, a notable fact here is that along the way, a parent must also not forget that each child needs a personalised approach because their individual immune system varies from another one.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome plays a compelling role in helping control indigestion woes and benefiting one’s immune system against infections. An imbalance of unhealthy and healthy microbes in the GI tract is capable of contributing towards ill-health conditions like weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and many such other lifestyle disorders. Some ways in which one can improve their gut microbiome includes eating lots of seasonal fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, avoiding artificial sweeteners and high-in-fructose corn syrups and its variants from your diet, switching to a plant-based diet, and eating fermented food.
Enhancing immunity in young children is not an automatic process, it needs conscious changes in lifestyle like the below:
1. Prebiotics and probiotics for a gut check
Prebiotics are substances that come from different types of carbs which are high in fibre that humans can’t digest. They go straight to the gut and the beneficial bacteria in your gut eat this fibre. On the other hand, probiotics are good bacteria to keep one’s gastrointestinal (GI) system healthy. The goal is to boost the helpful bacteria in the body to destroy harmful bacteria, thereby reducing infection. If probiotics are present in many fermented foods like yoghurt, pickles, sauerkraut, and tempeh, prebiotics mostly come from fibre-rich foods including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
A good amount of both probiotics and prebiotics can end up keeping your gut microbiota healthy. Breast milk produced immediately after childbirth is called colostrum and contains immune-strengthening antibodies for a new-born baby–inclusive of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are special prebiotics that help feed the good bacteria in your baby’s gut to support GI health and for slowly aiding in the development of the immune system. Over time, infants may develop a condition that causes symptoms like stomach-ache often due to episodes of diarrhoea or constipation. Without a natural presence of healthy bacteria, this could even lead to colic. Such a condition can be troublesome to manage and cause sleepless nights for both the infant and the parents. This is where probiotics can be of good use to relieve symptoms and help infants cry less.
Probiotics are known to knock off ailments to a large extent especially in toddlers as they continue to get gut microbiome species from their mothers. This also paves the way for a probiotic to persist in the infant gut, where it faces less competition and can thus multiply easily.
2. Put focus on whole foods: Do your best to steer away from packaged foods, as they tend to be rich in saturated fats, added sugar and salt—everything that can elevate the presence of harmful bacteria and weaken your child’s immune defences!
3. Say yes to nutrients in the diet: To support the immune system, many studies go on to show that zinc is an extremely helpful antioxidant which also has anti-inflammatory properties. Ensure that your kid is eating plenty of foods rich in zinc, like meat, shellfish and others (though only after establishing that your child is not allergic to them).
4. A little bit of sunshine: Vitamin D is a compound that plays an integral role in your little one’s health. Not only is it necessary for bone structure, but it has also been often linked to have better immune response. It is specifically more helpful to the children of parents who are themselves vitamin D-deficient. Check with your doctor on the supplementation dose.
5. Dietary changes: Eating a low-fat, plant-based diet may help give the immune system a good boost. Child immunity is closely related to the diet he/she intakes.
6. Breastfeeding: As for babies, until 6 months breastfeeding is important and can build a solid foundation of protecting against bacteria and viruses.
7. Non-food tips to build your child’s immune system
- Promote regular hand washing in your toddler, especially before and after playtime, eating food, using the bathroom etc.
- Don’t skip immunisations at any cost—following your paediatrician’s advice when it comes to the childhood vaccination schedule is a must.
- Make sleep a priority: Pre-schoolers or toddlers (ages 3-5), should get between 10 to 11 hours, while children between the ages of 6 to 13 should get sleep between 9 to 11 hours. Pre-teens, however, need anywhere between 8-10 hours of sound sleep.
- Staying active (Indoors & outdoors)—Exercise plays an important role in boosting a child’s immunity. Playing indoors as well as exposing your child to outdoor environments can prove to be beneficial for the kid’s immunity. From playing in the park, soiling themselves to playing with pets—your child gets exposed to germs which will eventually help his/her body to adapt to building better immunity.
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