Young children are prone to catching infections in school. This may happen as often as every 2–3 weeks as their immunity is immature from the lack of prior exposure to certain germs. Typical infections you may have noticed your child catching in school include the common cold, stomach flu and hand, foot and mouth disease.
A strong immune system prevents an infection from developing into a serious illness. The good news is that there are measures you can take to build your child’s immunity so that they don’t fall sick frequently and if they do catch a bug, they bounce back quickly. Dr Dave Ong from Kids Clinic Punggol shares some practical tips on how you can help build your child’s immunity
1. Consider exclusive breastfeeding for at least 4 months
Breastfeeding has been shown to allow the transfer of antibodies from mother to baby. These antibodies provide a constant source of help for the baby to defend themselves from germs. Nevertheless, exclusive breastfeeding may not be possible for all mothers and it’s absolutely fine to practice mixed feeding.
2. Keep up with your child’s vaccination schedule
Vaccinations are important to help build antibodies against certain infections and to help white blood cells develop the ability to fight these germs in the future. Vaccinations commonly seen in the immunisation schedule are the 5-in-1 or 6-in-1 vaccines, which protect against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, Haemophilus influenzae disease and hepatitis B. You may also want to consider optional vaccinations such as those for rotavirus and chickenpox. Influenza vaccination is another one to think about especially during the current Covid-19 pandemic, to reduce the risk of acquiring multiple respiratory infections.
3. Ensure your child gets sufficient sleep
When we sleep, the immune system rests and rebuilds to fight infections. Lack of sleep may decrease the ability of the immune system to fight infectious diseases. So, how much is enough sleep? Here is a guide for you to follow:
- Preschoolers (Ages 3–5): 10–13 hours
- Children (Ages 6–13): 9–11 hours
- Adolescents (14–17): 8–10 hours
4. Feed your child a balanced and colourful meal
Up to 80% of our immune cells are in the gut. Building a healthy gut is critical to ensure a strong immune system. You can do this for your child by feeding them with a balanced and nutritious diet. Remember to also include colourful fruits and vegetables. They contain phytonutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to support the immune system. Adding foods that are rich in probiotics and prebiotics in your child’s diet will also help in developing a strong gut. These include yogurt, bananas, legumes, oats and berries.
5. Consider vitamin and mineral supplementation
Certain vitamins and minerals have been shown by research to help reduce the duration and severity of infections. These include vitamin C and zinc for the common cold and lower respiratory tract infections and baker’s yeast beta glucan for upper respiratory tract infections. Vitamin D is an important immunomodulator that not only boosts the immune system but also moderates it. This means that if your child does catch an infection, their immune system is not overly active risking damage to the internal organs.
6. Get outside and exercise
Exercising helps to release positive chemicals such as endorphins that strengthen the immune system. When it is done outdoors, sunlight exposure helps the body to manufacture vitamin D, which further strengthens and supports the immune system.
Going to school should be an exciting and enjoyable experience for kids and a pleasant one for parents. By practicing these steps, you can help your child keep those pesky bugs at bay, so everyone can stay focused on learning and growing.
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