Inside: 9 simple and natural ways to help protect your children from infection and ward off coughs, colds and bugs.
I can’t decide which is worse, trying to look after your kids when you’re unwell or seeing your children unwell and wishing you could trade places.
Neither is great but welcome to winter and flu season. That time of year when coughs, colds and snotty noses run rife. And with 4 kids, bugs take their time to pass from one child to the next. It feels as if we spend the whole winter unwell.
As much as I know that some childhood illness is inevitable (and the positive side is that it helps your child’s immune system learn), I’d still rather avoid my kids getting ill if I can.
I’m not talking making your kids eat raw garlic (although that would actually help), or dance in the moon light gathering dew. I’m talking simple things like washing your hands. In fact, I’m going to put that as my number one as it’s so important.
Simple Ways to Ward Off Colds
- Wash Hands and Look to Personal Hygiene. Bugs spread in droplets of moisture. When you sneeze, you spray a lovely cocktail of bug ridden drops all over a surface. Or if you sneeze into your hands, all over your hands. Then you go and give your child a cuddle and guess what? You’ve passed those bugs onto your kids. One of the easiest and simplest ways to help illness spreading is to wash your hands after contact with “bug juice” (think snot, sneeze, dribble.) Use a tissue to clear away snot and then throw it in the bin or down the toilet. Then remember to wash and dry your hands.
- Breast feed your baby. Breastfeeding is a great way to give your baby some extra bug fighting antibodies. The amazing thing is that you’ll come into contact with the same bugs as your baby. Your mature immune system produces great antibodies and passes them on to your baby via the breast milk. Your baby’s immune system isn’t fully developed yet. It’s like giving your baby it’s own bespoke bug fighting bullets.
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- Lots of Fruit and Veggies. There are SO many benefits of eating lots of fruit and vegetables (and if you’re a frequent reader you might have guessed I’m keen on developing healthy eating habits.) Among the amazing benefits is that fruit and veggies contain nutrients (“phytonutrients”) that boost our immune system. They help the body produce bug fighting cells such as white blood cells and interferon.
The nutrients that are especially good for boosting immunity include vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids (found in orange vegetables such as carrots and sweetcorn), zinc, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics. If your child has a healthy and balanced diet, they should be getting all these nutrients and shouldn’t need supplements.
Raw garlic and echinacea have also been credited with boosting your body’s natural immune system.
- Get Enough Sleep. Studies shows that sleep deprivation can reduce some bug fighting cells call “natural killer cells”. If your child is waking too early, teach your baby or toddler to sleep later.
- Exercise. Movement and exercise are crucial to a healthy lifestyle. One of our “bug fighting systems” call the “lymphatic system” is dependent on exercise to circulate efficiently. Here are 10 Fun Ways to Exercise with Kids.
- Stop Smoking. Cigarettes are bad bad bad. But I expect that you know that. What you might not know is that they can contribute to your child or baby getting breathing problems. Even if you only smoke outside, or away from your kids, the smoke and toxins still linger on your clothes and can contribute to your child getting unwell. Quitting smoking can even reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS.
- Don’t Overuse Antibiotics. We are so lucky to live in a world with antibiotics. They save many lives every year. But antibiotics only work on the appropriate bacterial infection. (There are different antibiotics for different bugs.) They do not work on viruses which cause most winter snuffles and breathing problems. In fact, it gets worse. If you use antibiotics at the wrong time, you help the bacteria “understand” the antibiotic. The bacteria change and become more resistant to the antibiotic so that when you actually need the antibiotic, it doesn’t work. This is called “antibiotic resistence”. The bacteria are resistant to an antibiotic that used to kill them.
What can you do? Use antibiotics appropriately. Don’t nag or pressure your doctor into giving them just to get rid of you. If your doctor thinks you or your child need an antibiotic, complete the course. (If there is a bacterial bug and you only half treat it, that can also help the bacteria learn and contribute to resistance.)
- Avoid Nasties. Studies show that eating lots of sugar and fat can suppress the immune system. If your kids have a healthy and balanced diet, you don’t need to worry. Here’s the truth about kids, sugar and salt.
- Wear Appropriate Clothing.”Wrap up warm or you’ll catch a cold.” True or false? No one really knows the answer, but probably not. Scientists think that people get colds in the winter because they’re inside more, breathing in stuffy air. It’s better to go outside, get some fresh air and wear appropriate clothing so that you feel comfortable.
See? There is so much that you can do to help your kids stay fit and healthy.
One Not-So-Natural but Totally Awesome Way to Protect Your kids from Infection
Here’s one last piece of advice. It may not be “natural” but I am grateful for modern science and medicine. Hundreds of years ago when things really were “natural” women died in child birth and babies who were born alive often died before the age of one. You were considered old, ancient and wise if you made it to the ripe old age of 35.
There is a place for “natural” but there is also a place for science and technology.
My golden piece of advice?
Vaccinate your children. It may not be natural, but it may save their lives (and you’d never even know!)
If you’re not sure, read this heart wrenching account of one child’s experience of polio.
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You Can’t Avoid All Bugs
You can be as careful as you like and still you and your kids will get unwell. When your child does get unwell, you need to know when to take them to the doctor, to watch out for signs of dehydration and serious illness.
I know that I can’t stop my kids from getting every illness, but I’ll use these simple measures to ward off those colds and protect my kids from infection. Here’s hoping for a bug free winter!