Boosting children's immunity in winter

Coughs and colds are par for the course over Winter. However, if you have small children bringing bugs home from play dates, kiddie classes or child-care and spreading these to other children and your baby, you probably feel like hibernating until spring. But there are some simple ways to boost your little ones' immunity so they (and you) don't have too many sick days this winter.

Feed them a healthy diet

Focus on a wide variety of foods to nourish your child's immune system - fresh vegies, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs and meat. Try and feed your child a ‘rainbow' of fruits and vegetables, including berries, carrots, beans, oranges as these are all rich in phytonutrients such as vitamin C and caroteinoids. According to pediatrician Dr William Sears, phytonutrients may increase the body's production of infection-fighting white blood cells and interferon, an antibody that coats cell surfaces, blocking out viruses. To keep children well, it's also important to limit sugar, processed food and additives and avoid known allergens (or check with your health care provider if you suspect allergies).

Consider breastfeeding if this option is suitable for you

Breast milk is a living substance with turbo charged immune fighting cells, including white blood cells that will protect your baby or toddler as long as you are breastfeeding. In fact some immune factors become more concentrated during baby's second year and if your baby comes in contact with germs, the transfer of saliva to your breast will signal your immune system to make antibodies to these bugs - and baby will receive these through your milk.This is why your little one will step up breastfeeding if ‘coming down with something.'

Keep their gut healthy

Over 70% of your child's immune system is in their gut. Check with your naturopath, pharmacist or doctor about an appropriate probiotic for your child, especially if your little one has had antibiotics. Antibiotics will not only destroy harmful bacteria but will kill some of the beneficial bacteria in your child's gut so probiotics can help re-balance their gut environment after a course of medication.

Keep them warm

If children are cold, that's one more stress on their little immune system. Try and keep socks on (non-slip for babies and toddlers), or ugg boots and slippers inside - you might have to make it a game! Encourage layers of warm clothing to keep little bodies and chests warm but please note, for sleep it's important not to overheat your child. Also, keep their head uncovered while sleeping as overheating is a known SIDS risk.

Stop the germ spread

Wash children's hands and encourage hand washing as soon as your child can manage to effectively wash their own hands. Pay special attention to hand washing before meals, after nose blowing, using the toilet and after play-dates and childcare. Tip: kids LOVE Ecostore foaming handwash! If your child is sick, it can be good to keep a sick child's toothbrush separate to others to avoid spreading viruses to other family members' toothbrushes.

Encourage sleep and rest

How often do you run on adrenalin when you are busy, then find you are stopped in your tracks with a cough or cold as though your body is telling you it's time to rest? Living in a fast paced world is stressful for children and the release of cortisol and adrenalin can inhibit immune function for them, just as it does for us. So slow down, offer plenty of time for creative play, with rest periods and a relaxing bedtime routine to help busy little bodies switch off and sleep soundly.

Pinky McKay is an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Parenting by Heart (Penguin Random House). See Pinky' s books, blogs and baby massage DVD at her website.