How to boost your child’s immunityDr. Surya Bhagwati
No parent wants to see their child sick, but sickness is an inescapable part of childhood. Kids tend to fall ill pretty frequently, suffering from colds, the flu, diarrhea, and other conditions. This is because their immune systems are still developing, not to mention, most children don’t have the best hygiene. While it may seem like a good idea to avoid all exposure to germs, this can be counterproductive as it won’t allow your child to build natural immunity. Instead you can inculcate hygienic habits in your child and encourage behaviors that support and boost immunity. Here’s what you can do to boost your child’s immune system from an early age.
1. Breast-feed Your Baby
Breastfeeding is a personal decision, but it’s also highly recommended. As far as possible make it a point to nurse your baby for at least the first 6 months or longer. This can significantly help to lower the risk of infections, as well as allergies. Studies show a clear immune benefit for babies who are breast fed exclusively. This is because a mother’s milk contains immune-boosting antibodies, enzymes, immune factors, and white blood cells – especially when lactation just begins. This milk provides your baby with all the nutrients needed to stay healthy, including protein, fats, and sugar. We know from research that the immune benefits of breastfeeding are passive and can also extend into adulthood.
2. Don’t Skip Vaccination
Childhood vaccination is the best and most powerful defense against a wide range of infections, some of which can be life threatening. India has actually played a pioneering role in vaccination, both in ancient and modern times. Some of the earliest ideas for vaccination actually come from Ayurvedic sources. In recent times, India is regarded as a global leader for countries battling childhood diseases like polio. To ensure your child is healthy and safe, make it a point to follow all vaccination protocols recommended by your health care provider.
3. Inculcate Basic Hygiene Practices
You don’t need to turn your child into a germaphobe, but some instruction in hygiene is necessary. With the current COVID-19 crisis, you may have been reminded about the importance of hand washing. This is a practice that should be inculcated in children anyway, as contact is responsible for the transmission of about 80 percent of all infections. Teach your child to cover his mouth or nose when sneezing or coughing and to wash his hands thereafter. Similarly, your child should be encouraged to wash his hands thoroughly after any outdoor activity and before handling food. Hand washing with soap for about 20 seconds has been shown to lower the risk of infections considerably.
4. Promote Healthy Eating
Getting kids to eat healthy can be challenging, but it’s easy if you start early. Most importantly, you should lead by example. Balanced nutrition is just as important for child immunity system as it is for us. This means that you should coax your child to eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, nuts, and seeds. This will ensure optimal nutrition with a complete spectrum of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and other macro or micronutrients. All of these essential nutrients play a role in immune function; studies show that a variety of deficiencies can lead to weakened immune function. Studies also show that phytonutrients from plant-based foods are particularly helpful at improving white blood cell and antibody production. This is essential for fighting off infections.
5. Encourage Physical Activity
Physical activity or exercise isn’t just important to fight obesity. It plays an important role in childhood growth and the development of the immune system. There is plenty of evidence to show that regular physical activity correlates with a rise in natural antibodies or killer cells. As with many of these recommendations, physical activity during childhood also increases the likelihood of children staying fit as adults. To encourage activity, be a good role model and exercise with your child. Encourage him to play outdoors (not during the lockdown of course!) and participate in physical sports like running, cycling, cricket, football, table tennis, badminton, swimming, and so on.
6. Prioritize Sleep
Sleep is vital for childhood growth and development. This means that it also plays an important role in building immunity. Good sleep habits are also developed at an early age, making it important for you to set regular hours for bedtime. Sleep requirements reduce with age, but they remain vital even in adulthood. Studies show that sleep deprivation can have severe consequences on immune function, significantly increasing the risk of infections – especially respiratory diseases.
7. Stop the Pill Popping
As we’ve already stated, childhood infections occur with a rather high frequency. While it can be hard to see our kids sick, quick fixes aren’t always the best option. Unfortunately, many of us reach for pharmaceutical cough and cold syrups and antibiotic medications without a second thought. While Ayurveda recognizes the value of antibiotics in some situations, it is opposed to the rampant use of such medications. This opinion is now shared by the larger medical community as studies show that excessive use of OTC antibiotics alters the gut microbiome. This can actually weaken immunity and increase vulnerability to infection because of the critical role that the gut microbiome plays in immunity.
In addition to adopting all of these habits to boost childhood immunity, you can also give your child a further immune boost. Ayurveda provides us with a rich body of knowledge on natural immune boosters, including herbs and spices. From common ingredients like ginger and garlic, to herbal extracts from amla and kalmegh, there are many safe choices for children. The best option would be to stick with the tried and tested chyawanprash formula, which has been in use for over 2,000 years. Dr. Vaidya’s has even designed a child-friendly toffee version, called ‘Chakaash’, to make it easier to administer to your child.
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