Written by: Dr. Clare Sullivan, order Naturopathic Doctor
Returning to work post-parental leave can be filled with mixed emotions. You may feel excited about re-entering an adult environment, reconnecting with friends and colleagues. Perhaps there is apprehension about sending your little one off to daycare for the first time. Some feeling of sadness surrounding leaving your baby and inevitably missing some of their first moments. And more than likely a curiosity verging on overwhelm when you consider trying to “balance” work, parenthood, romantic relationships, friendships, exercise, nutrition and other hobbies (I will have more to say on balance shortly).
Let’s imagine that you have transitioned. You have navigated through the mixed emotions and baby is feeling settled in daycare, you are back to work and there is a bit of a routine forming when BAM – baby gets sick – runny nose, fever, cough, and you have to take time off to care for this precious little being. A whole new set of mixed emotions is ready to replace the old with worry about your sick child being at the forefront. Intellectually you are not surprised that they got sick. Daycares and schools are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses but knowing that and living it are very different experiences! What is the solution? Today I am going to talk about how to strengthen your child’s immune system in order to prevent sickness before it happens and lessen the duration of illness when it does occur.
Let’s touch very briefly on breastfeeding. If you are breastfeeding, returning to work might invoke thoughts of having to wean your baby. Let me state that this is absolutely not necessary. Amongst other benefits the composition of the breastmilk will evolve, increasing in certain antibodies which will help your baby fight infection.
Teaching toddlers (or pre-school, or school age children) about personal hygiene can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. However, even though the recommendations might not always be followed, it is important to start the conversation early, help them when they forget and create healthy lifelong habits.
- Washing their hands: Handwashing with soap and warm water after toileting, playing outdoors or with animals, after sneezing or coughing, and before eating is an essential first step in preventing the spread of infection. Singing the alphabet to/with them while they wash can make the ritual fun and help give them a sense of the length of time they need to be at the sink.
- Coughing into their elbow: Teaching them that coughing into their elbow helps stop the spread of germs.
- Not sharing: As parents we often stress the importance of sharing but sometimes it is OK not to share! Not sharing food or water bottles can help decrease the spread of disease.
We all know that a healthy immune system is built on a strong nutritional foundation. Here are a few practical steps to integrate into your family’s routine.
- Begin with eating a RAINBOW of colours – if your children are a bit older or there are older siblings, get them involved by turning it into a game. Don’t all children love rainbows? Follow this link to the food rainbow game. http://fit.webmd.com/jr/food/article/food-rainbow-activity.
- Ensure high quality protein (legumes, lean meats, fish and poultry) and high quality fats (avocado, coconut oil and olive oil) daily.
- Teach children to listen to their bodies. Have plenty of fresh water WATER available and allow them to drink to their thirst.
- Decrease or eliminate refined sugar, fruit juices and other sweetened drinks.
- Try incorporating immune boosting foods into their meals in the forms of soups or stews – mushrooms, garlic, ginger and onions all have powerful immune boosting properties. It can take children up to 15 times of tasting a new food before they like it – keep trying!
Finally, my simple go to supplementation list includes Vitamin C, Vitamin D, zinc and a good multi-strain probiotic including lactobacillus and bifidobacter strains.
Now all the prevention in the world will not guarantee that your child will never get sick, that is not a realistic expectation. But by putting these recommendations in place you will help decrease the number of days they are sick. In the end you help them feel better, relieve a big stress for yourself and let everyone get back to their routines – it’s a Win-Win!