It’s tough getting through winter without someone in the family succumbing to illness somewhere along the way. But the good news is, there is a lot you can do to boost your child’s immune system so they’re fighting fit through the colder months. Fitness and wellness expert, Lisa Raleigh shares her top tips.
By Lisa Raleigh
When cold and flu season hits, what can you do to protect your child from the endless array of viruses and germs she’s exposed to every day? Unfortunately, getting sick when you’re a child is part of the ‘job description’. In fact, studies show that it’s normal for little ones to pick up around 6-10 viral colds, ear infections or bouts of flu a year. This is because their immune systems take time to develop and strengthen as they’re exposed to different germs that can cause disease.
However, there are a few healthy habits you can adopt that will give your child’s immune system a boost. I use these strategies in my own home to keep my daughter, Bella, as healthy as possible through winter, especially since she started preschool.
1. Breast-feed often when they’re babies
There’s no doubt that breast milk is like liquid gold when it comes to giving your child what they need to fight infections, so if you’re able to breast-feed and choose to breast-feed, I suggest upping the feeds a little more through winter.
A mother’s breast milk contains many elements that support a baby’s immune system including probiotics, healthy fats, proteins, sugars and antibodies. I breast-fed Bella until she was around a year old, and whenever she came down with a cold or bout of flu, I noticed that my breast milk would help her to recover faster and reduce the severity of the illness. Studies also show that if a mother picks up a mild infection (such as a cold), her body develops antibodies to fight it off and this gets passed to the baby through breast milk too, what a bonus!
2. Wash hands and use sanitiser
Did you know that around 80% of infectious diseases are spread by touch? Emphasize to all your family members the importance of washing hands regularly and properly. Use hot water and antibacterial soap to wash hands for 30-40 seconds. Also teach your kids to rub the backs of their hands, including their thumbs.
Take it a step further and apply hand sanitizer after you’ve washed hands. Some research suggests that washing hands, plus using sanitizer is the best way to kill off all stubborn germs, given that many children don’t wash their hands for long enough.
I always keep a small hand sanitizer in my handbag and use it often when we’re out and about. Some key places to use it include;
- At the shopping mall – especially if you touch public toilet door handles, trolleys or escalator railings
- After visiting any public playground with jungle gyms and toys;
- After a trip to see friends and family
- At the doctors’ rooms. Yep, your child can pick up a secondary infection in the waiting room, so be vigilant here.
You should also pay particular attention to their hygiene after each meal and after playing outside, handling pets, blowing their nose and arriving home from school or day care.
3. Keep nasal passages open and clear
Our nasal passages are responsible for filtering the air we breathe to make sure nothing harmful gets into the body. And, in order to do this, our mucus membranes need to be kept moist. Cold, dry air can disrupt this delicate system and cause a dry, sore nose – especially in children who have thin mucus membranes. To keep your child’s nose open and clear, and to relieve congestion, consider using a few drops of Olbas oil in your child’s cool mist humidifier at night.I also use a gentle saline nasal spray such as Sterimar for Bella every day to prevent congestion and clean out her nose from possible allergens and irritants.
4. Use the right immune-boosting supplements
In addition to a healthy diet, chat to your doctor about a few safe supplements for your kids. For Bella, I use a good probiotic as well as a zinc/ vitamin C complex and an additional immune support syrup for winter.
TIP: Make sure that the supplements you use are 100% natural and safe for children.
5. Focus on sleep
Studies in adults show that just a little sleep deprivation can lower your immunity and make you more susceptible to illness and the same holds true for children. Experts also believe that adequate sleep is important for children because it helps to regulate moods and hormonal levels, as well as boost concentration and memory – all important for growing little bodies.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns need up to 18 hours of sleep a day, while babies between the ages of 6–12 months need 9–12 hours of sleep at night during the night and regular naps throughout the day, lasting between 30 minutes–2 hours.
Toddlers and older children need between 10–13 hours of sleep at night with one nap in the day, lasting between 30 minutes–2 hours. Your child might drop her day nap anytime from age three onwards.
To help your little one sleep better, it’s important to create the right sleep environment for her. This means a cool, dark room with good ventilation and minimal noise. White noise for babies and toddlers such as soothing music or a fan should also help to drown out external noise that could wake them.
6. Encourage plenty of exercise and daily movement
I read an article recently in the Harvard health archives, which basically points out that exercise is the single most important thing you can do for your health, in addition to following a healthy diet. And this isn’t just for us, it’s critical for our kids too, especially as they grow and develop.
Did you know that children learn more physical skills in their first five years than at any other time in their life? Exercise is critical for kids because it teaches them about their body and how it moves, it helps them to reach all their developmental milestones and it helps to build a healthy body, inside and out.
However, being ‘busy’ isn’t the same as being active. I always encourage my clients to be role models for their kids and enjoy activities together as a family. Activities should involve all the major muscle groups, boost blood circulation, get the heart pumping and encourage better breathing.
Some great family-friendly activities include:
- Going for family walks or mini
- Swimming together as a family – with assistance for young children
- Riding bikes together
- Taking your kids to a park with wide open space so you can play ball or frisbee and explore
- Visiting a trampoline park (for kids older than two) or rebounding at home on a mini trampoline. As soon as your child learns to walk, they can bounce!
Why I recommend rebounding for kids
I recently gave a talk at a toddler seminar and spoke about these major benefits of rebounding, specifically for growing minds and bodies;
Rebounding stimulates every cell, muscle and organ in the body
Besides boosting fitness, trampolining also improves digestion, blood circulation, stimulates internal organs, promotes lymphatic circulation and drainage and strengthens the immune system. The improved circulation of oxygen to your children’s brains, can help to make them feel more alert and refreshed and improve concentration.
- It builds a strong core
- Rebounding is one of the best exercises to stabilize the core muscles as it also improves balance and coordination.
- It’s a full body exercise
- This means that a single jump uses all the large, major muscle groups.
- It’s safe and ideal for the whole family
Yep, you can enjoy fun bounce sessions with your kids too. No need to head to the gym without them.
Bouncing provides vestibular stimulation
The vestibular system is centred in the inner ear and it ‘talks’ directly to the brain via a key nerve pathway. It controls the sense of movement and balance and plays a big role in child development.
It engages all the senses
When a child jumps, there’s an abundance of brain activity as bouncing aids the development of vision, visual-motor skills, hearing and auditory-motor skills. Trampolines also help to develop good body awareness, as children learn about how their different body parts move – as well as where they are in space and what direction they’re moving in. This all helps to build confidence.
Bouncing builds better coordination and balance
As kids jump, they sense the gravitational shifts and pulls which happen on a trampoline and their bodies respond by adjusting their position. The body has to work hard to stay upright and balanced – and this is where the magic happens!
7. Eat for immunity
I know it’s hard with fussy eaters but try to encourage your child to eat at least five portions of fruit and veggies a day. Fruits such as oranges and strawberries, as well as veggies including green beans, spinach and carrots all contain plenty of immune-boosting antioxidants, phytonutrients and carotenoids.
Foods high in zinc are also important for supporting your child’s immune system. Some of these include nuts, seeds, eggs, lean meat and poultry and legumes like chickpeas and lentils. A serving is about two tablespoons for toddlers, and one cup for older kids.
Another handy trick is to hide veggies in traditional foods you child won’t even notice. Carrots work well in muffins, and you can hide just about anything in a tasty stew or soup. Mix eggs with veggies for a hearty omelette or make a healthy chocolate mousse with avocado as your base.
Then of course, if you add a serving of my Super Scoop For Kids into any smoothie or baked treat, your little one will be getting over 50 organic fruit and veggie extracts with plenty of essential vitamins, minerals and superfoods.
Here’s one of my favourite Superfood recipes from my Super Scoop recipe book that the kids will love:
Superfood Baby Marrow Bread
Makes 1 regular loaf
- 2 scoops Very Vanilla Super Scoop
- 1 ¼ cups oat flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarb
- 3 egg whites
- 1 Tbsp vanilla essence
- ¼ Tbsp honey or stevia powder
- ¼ cup water
- 1 cup baby marrow, grated (about 3 medium baby marrows)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C and spray a regular loaf tin with cooking spray.
- Add the superfoods, oat flour, baking powder, and bicarb to a bowl and mix together.
- Add the egg whites, vanilla essence, honey and water to a blender or food processor and mix until light and frothy.
- Squeeze the baby marrow to remove as much water as possible.
- Add to the egg whites and mix until all the baby marrow has been coated with the egg white mixture.
- Pour this into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.
- Pop into the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- Turn the oven off and allow the loaf to cool in the oven for a further 10 minutes. This will help to prevent the loaf from sinking after it leaves the oven.
*Super Scoop, powered by Biogen, is available from leading Dis-Chem stores nationwide
For more information on the Super Scoop Recipe book, visit www.lisaraleigh.com/lisa-raleigh/boutique/
To make this loaf more savoury, skip the sweetener and vanilla essence and add in 2tsp dried herbs of your choice. To make it sweeter, simply serve with a scraping of jam or honey.