Keeping children’s immune systems healthy

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The first year of nursery is a year that you can expect your child to be sick – a lot. Nursery is a breeding ground for infections, and your family will most likely be infected too. One by one. But it gets better. Because whenever you get an infectious disease, the immune system produces more antibodies and gets stronger and better at combatting diseases.

For newborn babies, it’s a different story. As Professor Arne Spurkland, an expert on the immune system, explains:

“Newborn babies have not produced any antibodies themselves. Before they were born, they got lgG antibodies and, through breastfeeding, they get the lgA antibodies – both from their mother. This protects children for the first six months of life, until they start to make their own antibodies”.

After six months, babies and children rely on their bodies’ natural immune response to fight infection. When your body has an immune response, some of the cells that were stimulated by this process will remain and produce antibodies. This means the next time your body encounters the same microbe, it already has antibodies and will start to produce more of them quickly, to stop the infection more effectively. This is also how many vaccines work and the reason why a lot of infections only strike us once in a lifetime.

So children need to be sick sometimes to stay healthy in the future. But we agree it would be nice if your child could avoid being sick all the time. So what can you do to help the immune system?

1.Vitamin D

Several studies show that vitamin D helps the immune system maintain its normal function. The NHS recommends giving vitamin D supplements to all babies from six months of age. This way you ensure that their need for vitamin D is covered.

2.Make washing hands fun

Making sure your children wash their hands with soap and water for the recommended 20 seconds is important to help prevent the spread of germs. A good trick is to get them to sing a song while they wash their hands. When they’ve finished they’ll know they’ve washed their hands for 20 seconds. Your children can use this method anywhere – at school, at a friend’s house or in public toilets.

3.Five a day

The NHS recommends eating five servings of fruit and vegetables every day because this is an easy way to increase your intake of vitamins. The A, C, D, and several B vitamins help the immune system to function. And the more varied the fruit and vegetables you eat, the better.

4.A little dirt is good

Remember that every time we get infected the immune system produces more antibodies and gets better at combatting disease. So kids should roll around in the mud, put dirty fingers into their mouths and have contact with animals as early as possible.