A child is continuously exposed to disease-producing organisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi and other parasites. Although a simple exposure does not mean that your child will fall sick, a strong immune system provides the child with a natural defense against diseases.
Newborns enter this world with an inexperienced immune system. With time children battle various infections and get their immunity primed. Hence it is perfectly normal for a child to develop 6 to 8 episodes of upper respiratory infections in a year. In fact, it is important for a child to acquire mild infections and develop lifelong immunity against some diseases. However, if a child is overly susceptible to infections, his/her immune system may need to be boosted.
The simplest yet important way to boost a child’s immunity is to give him the necessary vaccinations. Hygiene techniques, particularly hand washing, also play an important role in reducing the stress on a child’s immune system. Hence, children should be taught the importance of hand washing at home and school.
A few ways to boost up a child’s immunity include:
Exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age and continuing to feed at least for a year or two after that, is crucial to protect the baby against diseases and to give him the nutrition he needs. Breast milk contains various antibodies and white blood cells that will protect the baby from ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, meningitis, urinary tract infections etc.
Healthy Dietary Habits:
Good nutrition is essential for an intact immune system.
- A balanced diet containing all the 5 food groups should be offered to the child: Dairy products, fruits and vegetables, cereals, protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs or pulses) and fat (oil, ghee, butter etc.)
- Unprocessed natural food should be encouraged and intake of junk food with additives should be discouraged.
- Excess sugar (juices, fizzy drinks, chocolates) should be restricted, as excess sugar levels in the blood tend to reduce the activity of the white blood cells.
- Good fats rich in essential fatty acids should be included in the diet (vegetable oils/ fish oils/ nuts) and hydrogenated oils, i.e. deep fried food must be avoided.
Vitamins and Minerals:
Essential nutrients that stimulate a strong immune system include vitamin A, C, E, and D, as well as minerals such as Iron, Zinc, Copper etc. All these nutrients can be obtained from a wholesome diet. In case of picky eaters, a course of vitamin supplements can be given after discussing with the doctor. Since the dietary source of vitamin D is very limited, children should be encouraged to play outdoors to make sure that a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure happens daily.
Regular Physical Activity:
Similar to that in adults, regular activity in the form of playing a sport, cycling, swimming, jumping, running, climbing etc. is found to increase the number of natural killer cells in children thereby enhancing their immunity. As a parent, exercising with your children is a good option than just urging them to go outside and play.
Healthy Sleep cycle:
Sleep deprivation makes a child susceptible to illnesses by reducing the natural killer cells. A child’s body regenerates and renews itself while sleeping. A school going child should get a minimum of 7 to 8 hrs. of sleep daily to be active and healthy.
In addition to these, exposure to chemicals, toxins, radiations and spending a lot of time indoors breathing the stale recirculated air can suppress a child’s immunity. Taking care of the child’s environment will help to boost up their immunity.
The most important role of a parent is to reduce the child’s stress levels by loving them unconditionally, holding, hugging and kissing them often, giving them lots of down time, time for creative play or times of rest, encouraging them to laugh more and develop a positive attitude towards life. Reducing the level of stress hormones in a child’s body helps boost up their immunity. Parents should understand is that ‘All fevers are not bad’ and ‘Antibiotics are not needed for all fevers’. These small innocuous infections, in fact, help to build a child’s immunity for a better tomorrow.
Aster Clinic, Karama (UMC)