How To Boost A Child's Immune System
According to paediatric infectious diseases specialist, Nipunie S. Rajapakse, M.D., M.P.H, it can be normal for a child to have up to 12 colds a year. That may seem like a lot, but as children start to build up immunity this will reduce.
When children are sick it can disrupt their education and social development, it can also be exhausting for the caregivers that have to buy necessary treatments and take time off work. Common illnesses are hard to avoid, yet here are some crucial methods to boost your child’s immune system, reducing their symptoms and the number of sick days they would have to take.
5 Ways To Boost Your Child's Immune System
1. Encourage Regular Physical Activity
Exercise is important for keeping the immune system strong:
- It improves the circulation of white blood cells, so they detect illnesses earlier.
- It helps to flush bacteria out of the airways.
- Keeps the body temperature warm enough to prevent certain bacteria from growing
Children need at least 30 mins of 'tummy time spread' in their first year, and then at least 3 hours of exercise between ages 1 and 5. There are lots of ways this can be achieved, and it doesn't have to be all at once.
A range of different activities is encouraged, from playing in a park, to sports, to P.E. activities and walking.
2. Avoid Antibiotics Unless Recommended by a Doctor
Antibiotics are not the remedy for a cold or flu. They are also no longer routinely used to treat sore throats or chest infections. Usually all your child needs are some vitamins and some rest. Overusing antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance, making them less effective when absolutely necessary. You should only be giving your child antibiotics when prescribed by their GP.
3. Make Sure They Get Plenty Of Sleep
Our immune system needs proper rest to have enough energy to work. This is vital for everyone but it is especially important for children as they need enough sleep to develop their immune systems and deal with new bacteria and viruses for the first time.
A sufficient amount of sleep gives our body time to produce more cytokines and T-cells, these create immune responses to illnesses.
According to The Sleep Charity UK, the recommended sleeping hours for children are:
- Toddlers: 12 hours
- Age 3-6: 10-12 hours
- Age 7-12: 10-11 hours
- Teenagers: 8-9 hours
Tips For Making Sure Children Get Enough Sleep
You can set a bedtime to fit these hours in, but we all know that doesn’t guarantee sleep. Here are some tips for getting children to bed and staying in bed:
- Set a wind down time - The lights should not just go out at bedtime. Prepare your child’s circadian rhythm for sleep with quiet time, no screens and dimmed lights.
- Read bedtime stories - a story at bedtime distracts the brain from the day’s activities so it can calm down and switch-off.
- Get them to use the bathroom just before bed – so there are no disturbances during the night.
- Use blackout curtains in their room – so they aren't awoken by the sun, particularly in summer months.
- Keep them active during the day – so their bodies are ready for rest.
- White noise – rather than complete silence, consistent noise drowns out other irregular sounds that may wake your child at night. Try some white noise from Youtube to lull them into slumber. Alternative background sounds are available, such as blue, pink, or brown.
- Be consistent about bedtimes – Get your children into a routine so their bodies know when it is time to sleep.
Learn more about how to get better sleep at any age.
4. Let Them Play With Pets
The body’s microbiota strengthens our immunity and protects against pathogens. A study has found that we share the microbiota with the animals we live with, improving our resistance to a variety of diseases.
Owning a pet builds your immune system due to the added exposure to bacteria and their stress-reducing effects. Stress is also known to damage our immune responses. Pets can help calm stress and anxiety, in turn protecting against illnesses.
Even just stroking a pet has been found to increase immunoglobulin (IgA) levels – the natural infection-fighter in the body. In one study, those that had just petted a dog had higher IgA in their saliva than those that didn’t.
5. Give Your Child Daily Vitamins
Nutrition is essential for good health. The human body is incredibly complex, constantly working on rebuilding skin and muscles, sending nerve signals from the brain to other organs, our red blood cells carrying essential substances around the body, and all the continuous chemical reactions of our hormones are just a few of our daily processes. When we fail to get the essential nutrients for these systems to run effectively, it can lead to all sorts of health problems.
Sometimes, even with a balanced diet, it can be hard to get all the vitamins we need to ensure these processes are working properly. It is strongly recommended to take vitamins as supplements, so you know your kids are getting the right amount of each.
Main vitamins recommended for children:
- Vitamin A - Necessary for bone health, eyesight, organ function and immune system
- Vitamin B - Promotes strength, growth, energy production and digestive function
- Vitamin C - Helps wounds heal, the immune system, infections and the body absorb iron from food sources.
- Vitamin D - For bone health, the immune system and disease prevention.
- Vitamin E - Powerful antioxidant, protect cells against damage caused by free radicals and boosts the immune system.
- Vitamin K - helps make proteins important for blood bone and kidney health
The NHS recommends at least giving children aged 6 months to 5 years, a daily supplement of vitamin A, C and D.
Learn more about the vitamins your children need, the benefits and recommended quantities
How to Boost Your Child's Immune System in Winter
Winter means getting cold and spending more time indoors. This also means a higher likelihood of your child getting sick. There are things you can do to keep them warm and healthy to prevent and reduce these illnesses.
Ensure Your Child Goes To School With Plenty Of Layers, Hats, Scarves, And Dry Hair!
It’s a generally known fact that being cold can make you sick. Cold air diminishes the local immune response in airways. Ensure your child goes to school with plenty of layers, hats, scarves, and dry hair! Wet hair doesn’t specifically cause illnesses but it does make you colder. Warm drinks throughout the day such as fruit teas and hot milk are an easy way to keep your child’s insides cosy.
Give Your Child Vitamin D Supplements
Vitamin D is proven to help protect against acute respiratory infections. In the UK, the sun’s wavelength is not strong enough to synthesise vitamin D in the skin. It is therefore essential to digest Vitamin D through food and supplements to get the recommended amount.
Although there is a severe lack of available Vitamin D in the UK during winter months, make sure your child does not exceed the recommended daily amount including what they receive from other foods.
The daily recommended maximum Vitamin D Intake:
- 1,000 to 1,500 IU a day for infants
- 2,500 to 3,000 IU a day for children 1 to 8 years old
- 4,000 IU a day for children 9 years and older
Vitamin K, magnesium and zinc are also recommended to improve the body’s absorption of Vitamin D
Illnesses transmit readily when indoors, making winter a cold’s breeding season. Spending more time inside in the winter months is inevitable but consider dressing your kids warmly and letting them out a little more. There are still lots of fun activities to do outside during the winter months. Go to the park and take the bikes. It’s less cold once you get moving.
Exposure to sunlight is also beneficial to your child’s circadian rhythm so that they can get that all-important, illness-fighting sleep at night.
How To Boost Your Child's Immune System For Day-care & School
It can feel worrying, especially since the difficulties of COVID-19, sending your child to mix with many other children who could be carrying a range of illnesses. But don’t worry, you can boost your child’s immune system so that possible exposure to new bacteria won’t be harmful.
Start Socialising Them With A Few Other Children First
The isolation of COVID-19 has shown evidence of damaging our immune systems. We need constant exposure to bacteria to keep fighting them off. Children must be exposed to a variety of microbes at a young age to build their immune systems. Before exposing them to many potential bacteria and viruses all at once, ease them in with a few playdates first.
Keep An Eye On Their Diet
Nutrients are essential to keeping healthy, and not all can be found in supplements. A balanced diet ensures none of the necessary food groups are missed out. See if you can request the lunch menu from the daycare or school a week in advance so that you can plan breakfast and dinner meals that make up a balanced diet.
Keep With Necessary Vaccinations
A vaccine is produced from the causative agent of a disease. When given to a patient it stimulates the production of antibodies to build immunity to it. Vaccines can be lifesaving and they are crucial for keeping your child and other children safe. It is therefore important to make sure that they have the recommended vaccines before mixing with other children.
Find out about all the necessary vaccinations your child should have and book these in with your GP.
The products offered are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease, or replace the advice of a medical professional. Results are not guaranteed and may vary from individual to individual.