The immune system is the body’s main line of defense when it comes to fighting off viruses and bacterial infections. It’s also one of those things that young babies show up in the world without much of – as they grow, and come into contact with new substances, their immune systems grow with them. And while your toddler’s immune system is probably fairly robust by now, there are plenty of little ways you can encourage it to grow just a little bit stronger.
The immune system’s function
If there is one area of your toddler’s body that it’s always important to keep in the best possible shape, it’s the immune system.
The immune system is Baby’s ultimate protector. It is made up of different white blood cells, chemicals, and antibodies that kill disease-causing body invaders like bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
When these invaders break through the first layer of protection – the skin – through a cut or a wound, the large white blood cells eat the invaders in order to protect the body.
While they’re doing that, the immune system creates a blueprint for how to kill that same foreign substance when it attacks again. This is also what a vaccine does – it gives the immune system the blueprints for how to handle an intruder without the danger of having had to fight it first. In this way, by getting sick, children are building their own immunities against illness in the future.
During immunization, whether it’s the natural kind that happens with illnesses your toddler’s body has encountered, or through vaccinations, the immune system is basically telling its soldiers “Look here, everyone. These are measles. Familiarize yourselves with them. They will attack in full force next time, and when they do, show no mercy.” And it won’t!
But in order for the immune system to fully reach its fighting strength, it can help to give it a bit of a boost.
- Diet: The American Association of Immunologists encourages daily consumption of fiber-rich food like apples, raspberries, and peas. These healthy treats help to boost Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which is one of the fiercest warriors in the body’s defense system. The same is true for foods that have probiotics, like yogurt, and those that have a significant amount of vitamin C, like oranges.
- Good sleep: Not only does it improve the immune system, but more importantly, sleep heals the body. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 11 to 14 hours of shut-eye each night for the well-being of toddlers.
- Dirt: You read that right – limit the use of antibacterial gels and antibacterial wipes, and allow kids to get dirty from time to time! Not all bacteria are bad. There is a bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae that is actually proven to help boost the immune system. The immune system sometimes needs a trigger to function well, and exposing a toddler to a little bit of dirt will do just that.
Baby’s immune system has done a great job protecting them so far, but it never hurts to offer a little extra assistance!
- “Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, March 23 2017. Retrieved August 16 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/Healthy-Sleep-Habits-How-Many-Hours-Does-Your-Child-Need.aspx.
- “Why do we sleep, anyway?” Healthy Sleep. Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, December 18 2007. Retrieved August 1 2017. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/why-do-we-sleep.