A toddler’s growing immune system

Is that a sniffle you hear? It’s definitely possible – it’s not uncommon for toddlers to get sick 8 to 10 times a year, which means that the toddler years can feel like an endless cycle of runny noses. It can help to know, though, that the times when Baby is sick now are setting their immune system up to be strong and healthy, and to fight in illnesses in the future.

The immune system is always changing, which is why full-grown adults occasionally grow brand new allergies, and children and teenagers often grow out of allergic reactions. Allergic reactions happen when the immune system perceives a threat, and sets the body’s defenses off to fight that threat. That fight is absolutely needed when the threat the immune system is noticing is a virus, but is a little bit of an over-reaction when the threat it’s noticing is just a piece of cat hair.

Like most other systems in the body, though, the immune system gets strongest when it has the chance to work. The more diseases Baby fights, the better their immune system is prepared to fight the next one.

What might be affecting my child’s immune system?

All toddlers fall into the same age-range, so why is your little one walking around with a never-ending runny nose while the twins down the street look like they’ve never been sick in their lives?

Just like every child is unique, so is every child’s immune system, and Baby’s immune system’s quirks may not be quite as sweet as their personality. Even though Baby is still very young, a multitude of factors have already gone into making their immune system exactly what it is today. Some factors include:

  • Pets: Not only are photo-ops with tiny babies and tiny cats or dogs arguably one of the cutest things you can do with your already-adorable newborn, but having a pet cat or dog in the house when your child is a baby can give their tiny little immune system a boost that will stay with them as they grow. Studies have really only pinpointed a benefit of having pets around newborns’ immune systems, though, so that’s no reason to run out and adopt a fuzzy new friend.
  • Gestational age at birth: On the other hand, babies who are born prematurely have a tendency to get sick a little bit more often than their carried-to-term peers. The extra illnesses they may be catching now are helping to build their immune systems stronger, though.
  • Early eating method: Babies who were breastfed may start out with more immunities in their systems, piggy-backing off of their moms’ immune systems.
  • Exposure: Children who spend time in daycare, or in other environments where they’re exposed to a lot of illnesses, definitely do pick up more of those illnesses early on, but it pays off later by making their immune systems stronger. A 2010 study published in JAMA Pediatrics shows children in daycare catching more cases of respiratory tract infections at an early age than children cared for at home but, by the age of eight, significantly lower incidence of respiratory tract infection.

How can I help to boost my child’s immune system now?

Now that Baby is a growing toddler, there’s plenty you can do to help build up their immune system, and help it grow as fast as they are growing. The way to do this, though, doesn’t sound particularly exciting. There isn’t any special trick: the way to keep Baby’s immune system healthy and growing is the same way you keep Baby healthy and growing – by feeding them a healthy, varied, vitamin-rich diet, and encouraging them to be active.

  • Brightly colored vegetables are high in Vitamin C, as well as other vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help build up the immune system.
  • Exercise can help boost and support the production of white blood cells that are a key part of a healthy immune response.

Baby’s immune system is growing every day, and though it’s a strange thought, it’s not just the good things, like the healthy food and exercise, that are helping it grow stronger, but also each stomach bug or ear infection. That’s not much comfort when you’re trying to fight down another fever, but it’ll help you and Baby out one day not too far in the future.

  • “Children With Early Contacts with Dogs and Cats Are Healthier.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, July 9 2012. Web.
  • “Does catching various colds as a toddler really ‘strengthen’ one’s immune system?” Learn Immunology. Learn Immunology, January 4 2015. Web.
  • “Exercise and Immunity.” Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 11 2014. Web.
  • “Infants Exposed to Dogs Less Likely to Develop Allergic Diseases.” Department of Pediatrics, University of Wisconsin. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Web.
  • Sylvana M. Cote, et al. “Sort- and Long-term Risk of Infections as a Function of Group Child Care Attendance.” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2010;164(12):1132-1137. Web. Decenber 6 2012.
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