A sick child is every parent’s night mare.
I am a parent and I know how often a little running nose, a thermometer that has shown a reading above normal or an upset tummy has brought my beautiful world crumbling down.
In the past seven years – ever since I graduated into a Mom – I have learnt, that the one thing I want most in this world is that my daughter should be healthy and happy. Because, when she is sick - even if it is a minor illness that I know will pass in a day or two – my life turns into a chaotic mess.
And this realization has taught me to value Immunity.
Immunity is an almost magical gift that nature has bestowed upon us. While we are healthy we don’t really think about all the cells tissues and substances in our body that are fighting against germs 24x7 to keep us safe from infections and diseases. But when you think about the hundreds of millions of germs surrounding us all the time – waiting to attack, and realize how rarely you actually get sick, it is truly amazing and awe inspiring.
My top priority then is - to boost my child’s immunity, so that she is sick less often and my life is not thrown out of gear frequently.
I now understand that there are several things that I can do to create an environment where my child’s immune system can function at its optimal best.
I firmly believe that if every parent commits themselves to boosting their own children’s immunity – we will have a more ‘Immune India’
Immunity in children
When a baby is born it already has some immunity in place. Immune substances called antibodies are passed down by the mother to her baby while it is still in the womb to ensure that it is protected from germs when it comes out into the world.
This baseline immunity is further strengthened by more antibodies that are present in breast milk.
These antibodies protect babies until they are about a year old but after that they start waning.
The child’s body then slowly works towards building its own immunity which takes a considerable amount of time. It is during this time when the immune system is still developing, that children fall sick again and again.
How can we bestow our children with better immunity?
It is impossible to speed up the development of a child’s immune system, but it is possible to help it to function at its best and that is what every parent should hope to achieve.
Ways to boost a child’s immunity –
1. Give your child’s immunity a head start by breast feeding
When a child is breastfed for at least six months he becomes less prone to infections and allergies later in life. Colostrum which is the thick golden milk that is produced for the first four or five days after birth, is extremely rich in antibodies and every baby must get this. Breastfeeding for six months ensures that the baby’s immature gut is safe from germs for that period and that his immunity is maintained at a high level until he is able to produce his own immune cells and antibodies.
Creating environments that are conducive to breastfeeding will ensure a much more ‘Immune India’
2. Tip the balance in your child’s favour by providing a balanced diet
A diet that provides all the nutrients in optimal amounts is vital to keep the immune system functioning at its best. Minerals like zinc and substances like anti oxidants are essential to keep the immune system going. Complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, pulses, unsaturated fats, fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, nuts and pro-biotics such as curd must be part of your child’s diet.
If families forgo the comforts of packaged processed foods and champion the cause of eating fresh food cooked we can have a more ‘Immune India’.
3. Keep every cell in the body happy with hydration
Every cell in the body requires water to function and immune cells are no exception. Water is also needed to wash away accumulated toxins and wastes which do not allow the body to function appropriately and cause a drop in immunity. Children must learn to love drinking water in its colourless odourless and tasteless form.
Rising above the flood of sweetened aerated beverages that are drowning us is the way to a more ‘Immune India’.
4. Clean up the environment – let the immune system breathe
The cells of the immune system need clean and smoke free air to breathe in. Parents are now acutely aware of the pollutants in the air that their children breathe and in their attempt to minimize exposure to this contaminated air, they lock their children away in air conditioned atmospheres. Air conditioned environments themselves however are health hazards due to air pollution of a different kind. Fresh air in natural surroundings is the only way to keep the immune system healthy.
Recognizing that flipping a switch to create a clean environment is doing more harm than good, actively working towards creating safe outdoor play areas for children and attempting to reduce our carbon footprint is the way to a more ‘Immune India’.
Above all endeavouring to reduce children’s exposure to the hazards of passive smoking is the way to a more ‘Immune India’. We need to say ‘No’ to smoking.
5. Catapult immunity to its pinnacle with physical exercise
The immune system loves regular physical exercise. Exercise increases the number of immune cells and enhances their function. This results in fewer sick spells. Children need all the physical exercise they can get.
Getting ourselves and our children off the couch and out in the open for a little while every day for some physical exercise can go a long way in creating a more ‘Immune India’.
6. Help immunity win by dealing stress a killer punch
Children today are stressed about their school work, their extracurricular activities, their looks, their clothes and their possessions and parents constantly add their own stress to all this stress. Stress suppresses the immune system. The fight or flight mechanism triggered by stress leads to high cortisol levels in the blood which suppresses the production of immune cells like T and B cells.
Actively working towards reducing stress in the lives of children and helping them to combat and overcome existing stress is sure to make a more ‘Immune India’
7. Strengthen immunity – do not sanitize
In their bid to keep away illness it is not uncommon for parents to sanitize the environment that their children live in. However such extreme cleansing is detrimental to a child’s developing immunity. Some exposure to pathogens is essential because minor pathogens that are present all around us serve as the teachers that teach the immune system about the big bad world of pathogens and equip it to combat disease. Overuse of disinfectants in households in the form of floor cleaners or in bathing soaps must be avoided for better immunity.
Embracing cleanliness without an obsession for sterility can create a more ‘Immune India’
8. Suffer through minor illnesses with a smile – do not misuse drugs
For parents, it is extremely distressing to have a sick child on their hands and resorting to drugs and antibiotics for every little thing is commonplace, especially since most drugs are available over the counter. However, a minor sick spell is like a coaching class for the immune system. When antibiotics are used to cut short the sick spell, it leaves the immune system with half baked knowledge on the basis of which it is unable to combat the same pathogen when it attacks a second time. This results in the child falling prey to the same germ again in a few days.
Resisting the temptation to misuse or overuse drugs can lead to the immune system graduating with honours and lead to a more ‘Immune India’ .
9. Wash your hands – give immunity a hand
Hand washing has proved to be the most effective way of preventing illness. It is important to teach children the importance of hand washing and tutor them to follow the right technique to wash hands.
When hands are washed frequently, disease causing organisms will have fewer places to hide in and we will have a more ‘Immune India’
10. Sleep well to wake up your immune system
Sleep is an essential prerequisite to an optimally functioning body and the immune system is no exception. Sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in production immune cells and immune substances in the body and makes the body more prone to infections. Unfortunately in our media bombarded world, a large number of children are sleep deprived and therefore not as immune competent as they could be.
Ensuring that children get their requisite sleep is a very important step towards boosting immunity and creating a more ‘Immune India’.
11. Give immunity that magical jab – Vaccinate
Several deadly diseases are now preventable by vaccines. Unfortunately the current lot of parents are not ones who have experienced the scourge of these deadly diseases and a certain amount of callousness has seeped into the vaccination schedules of many children. Every child must be vaccinated according to the prescribed schedule.
Age appropriate vaccination is the way to create a more ‘Immune India’.
We can create a more immune India. It is in our hands. Let us do it.
Let us join hands to ensure that the germs do not have the last laugh.