If you’ve got kids, you know that frequent sniffles and coughs go with the territory. The average preschooler brings home around nine colds each year. Kindergarteners have around 12 colds per year. While you can’t (and shouldn’t) protect your child from every bug they encounter, there are things you can do to reduce the number of infections they get every year.
Our moms gave us temporary defenses
We don’t come into this world with a fully developed immune system. Antibodies passed on through a mother’s placenta protect newborns. That protection gradually fades away as the baby’s own immune system develops. Each time we’re exposed to a new bacteria or virus, our bodies create antibodies to fight it off. The next time it tries to invade our bodies, the antibodies are already in our arsenal. Simply put: exposure to germs primes their immune system.
Hello daycare, hello runny noses
Preschool-aged children who attend daycare tend to get more colds than those who spend their first years at home. However by catching cold more often, they also are developing stronger immune systems. So by the time they start school, they tend to have fewer sick days than their classmates who stayed at home and who weren’t exposed to as many cold viruses.
There are healthy steps you can take to help your kids build strong immune systems
• Consider breast-feeding your baby. Breast milk is like a supersized serving of antibodies that help to protect against everything from ear infections, respiratory tract infections and allergies to diabetes. Some studies cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics indicate it may also reduce the risk of infant mortality.
• Feed your children foods that will help them fight off germs. Some foods, including colorful fruits and vegetables, contain phytonutrients which help keep children healthier overall. These include pink grapefruit, carrots, tomatoes, green beans, oranges, blueberries, strawberries and papaya. In contrast, diets rich in sugars may actually reduce a child’s immunity.
• Get your children all of their recommended vaccinations. Childhood vaccinations save lives. For example in 1994, a year before the chickenpox vaccine was available, the disease killed 100 children and hospitalized 10,000 annually. Today, unvaccinated children are nine times as likely as others to contract chickenpox, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Unvaccinated kids also are 23 times more likely to catch whooping cough. If you have concerns about vaccinations, have a talk with your pediatrician. The risk that comes from contracting these diseases is often far greater than any risks that come from the vaccines. For a current childhood vaccination schedule, visit the Centers for Disease Control website.
• Be consistent about naps and bed times. Studies show that lack of sleep can make children more susceptible to diseases by reducing their natural immune cells. Newborns need up to 18 hours of sleep, toddlers need nine to 14 hours, and children ages 5-12 need 10-11 hours per night.
• Follow your pediatrician’s advice regarding antibiotics. It’s not a good idea to insist that your child’s doctor write a prescription for antibiotics each time your child has a cold or sore throat. Antibiotics can only treat bacteria, not viruses. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria. As a result, simple things such as ear infections or upper respiratory infections may become stubbornly resistant to a cure. So use antibiotics only when recommended, and be sure your child finishes the entire prescription even if he or she starts to feel substantially better.
Taking steps to help build your child’s immune system may result in fewer sick days and fewer visits to the doctor and pharmacy.