I think I speak for every parent when I say that the health of our children is paramount. But can we actually help them build up a strong immune system? And is bacteria really the enemy when it comes to getting sick? This article will address some of these common parenting concerns and
lists several ways that we can help boost our children’s defenses, naturally, so that they can stay healthy and happy.
The Role of Bacteria
In order to talk about immunity, we need to discuss the critical role of bacteria when it comes to the health of our immune systems.
When most people think of bacteria they often think about nasty germs or infectious organisms that make us sick.
It’s important to understand, though, that not all bacteria is bad!
In fact, our bodies are comprised of a whole host of microorganisms, most of which are actually beneficial and vital to our health.
If you can believe it, our bodies are literally made up of more bacteria than human cells!
We harbor bacteria mostly in our gut, but also on our skin, and respiratory tract.
So what does all this have to do with our immune systems?!
Keep their immune systems strong by cultivating the good bacteria and getting rid of the bad.
It all Starts At Birth
Babies that pass through the birth canal will gain a whole host of beneficial microbes from their mother. Unfortunately, babies born via Cesarean Section miss out on this natural process and may experience a tougher time fighting off disease.
Don’t worry! For those of you that are unable to have a vaginal birth, there is good news! Recent research has shown promising results for babies who are purposefully exposed to their mother’s vaginal tract microbes just after a C-section birth. This is called swab seeding.
This isn’t to say that if you’ve had a C-section that your child is somehow doomed! There are plenty of other ways in which you can strengthen their immune system… just keep reading!
Breastfeeding is an extremely important part of building up your child’s immune system for several reasons.
We all know that breast milk contains crucial elements like vitamins and minerals. But you might not know that it also contains a wide variety of commensal (beneficial) bacteria.
In fact, it contains the exact organisms that are found in the infant gut! Staphylococci, streptococci, and lactic acid bacteria come directly from inside the breast and are passed from mom to baby.
As a crucial component of breast milk, these microbes carry immune-boosting properties that protect your child’s little body against foreign invaders.
Not only does breastfeeding help transfer beneficial microbes to your baby, but the polysaccharides (sugars) contained in breastmilk act as food for those microbes. As the microbes consume these sugars they are able to grow and thrive.
It is a simple fact that breastfed babies experience far fewer rates of infection than non-breastfed babies.
If your child is beyond the breastfeeding stage, then do not fret mama! There are still plenty of other natural ways to give their immune system a boost.
PROvide Good Nutrition
A proper diet will be your child’s best friend when it comes to resisting infection.
Since the majority of the bacteria in our bodies resides in the gut, it is important to nourish this microbiome (an ecosystem of bacteria) with high-quality nutrients.
Nutritional deficiencies make it much easier for pathogens, and viruses (the bad bugs) to break in and set up shop. Plus, consuming processed foods and sugars will only feed the ‘bad’ kinds of bacteria and create an imbalance in the body.
Keep your little ones protected with a well-balanced, whole foods diet, rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Make sure to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, shop organic when you can, and try to eliminate refined carbohydrates and sugars as much as possible.
Other nutrient-dense foods like bone broths and pasture-raised animal products are also great immune boosters!
“Pro” meaning “for”, and “biotic” referring to “life” – This type of bacteria and yeast are literally ‘FOR LIFE’, and crucial to building a healthy immune system!
Basically, by consuming Probiotics you are putting more ‘good’ bacteria back into your body.
Fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, miso, and tempeh are all wonderful sources of naturally occurring probiotics and are rich in bacteria that help support the gut flora.
You can introduce cultured foods as early as 6 months old (or when your child starts solids) and should continue to offer them as a regular part of your child’s diet.
If you would prefer, you can also incorporate a good probiotic supplement. Here is my favorite!
Playing outside has numerous health benefits and can do wonders in stimulating immune functions in the body.
When your child plays outside they are exposed to things like soil-based organisms (good bacteria!), fresh air, and Vitamin D. All of which have been shown to greatly increase components of the immune system.
So let your children explore the outdoors. Even getting a little dirt in their mouths is actually a good thing!
Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, puts it this way in her book entitled “Why Dirt is Good” –
“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment, not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”
By allowing your child the freedom to get a little dirty, you are not only fostering their ability to explore their environment, but you are aiding in the development of a healthy immune system.
Having pets (namely a cat or a dog) can have an extremely positive impact on the immune system of your child. The pet dander and microbes that they bring in from the outside can actually lower your child’s risk of infection, asthma, and allergies.
Early exposure is key and is thought to help ‘prepare’ the still-developing immune systems of babies.
Recent research has shown that babies who grow up around pets are less likely to fall ill than those who grow up in pet-free environments.
For more information see this article published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Don’t be a germaphobe!
The typical home today is filled with antibacterials and disinfectant cleaning products that are stripping our environments of healthy bacteria.
Don’t get me wrong, modern sanitization has played an immensely important role in lowering infection and disease rates. However…
because children are now being raised in these ultra-clean environments, we have seen a substantial increase in allergies, asthma, and gut-related disorders (Especially in kids).
Recent research suggests that we may be killing off too many of the beneficial bacteria, along with the bad germs, and it is proving to be detrimental to the developing immune systems of our little ones.
So what’s the answer then?…
Don’t be a clean freak!
Germs are not your enemy. You don’t have to spray down every toy and sanitize every pacifier.
Look at it this way, it actually makes things much less stressful for you! You don’t have to freak out the next time your baby picks up a toy off the ground and puts it straight into their mouth.
In fact, you should let them!
When you do clean, just using plain old soap and water will be all that you need.
Thousands of chemicals surround us on a daily basis. These toxins make their way into the bloodstream and destroy our microbiome, seriously affecting our health and lower the ability of our immune systems to do their job.
Because the immune system of a child is not yet developed (and experts suggest may not be until ages 12-14), they are even more sensitive to these environmental toxins.
While these harmful chemicals are impossible to completely avoid, there are several ways in which you can reduce the levels that you and your children are exposed to.
Here is a list of common culprits:
- Poor Air Quality (indoor and outdoor)
- Household Cleaners
- Contaminated food and water
- Lawn/Garden Pesticides
- Personal Care Products
Nowadays, there are plenty of non-toxic, affordable alternatives to household and personal products.
Take a look at the products in your home and make sure that they are safe, and you will greatly contribute to your families immune health.
Find a Good Chiropractor
If you have read any of my blog posts before, or you follow me on any of my social media channels, you know that I am a big advocate for spinal health.
And when it comes to building up your child’s immune system, it is no less important. In fact, I would argue, a vital part of it!
You see, our immune systems are regulated and controlled by our central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves).
Essentially, the brain regulates every function of the body, including telling the body when to fight off infection.
This message is passed down through the spinal cord and can be easily interrupted when our spines are misaligned.
Chiropractic adjustments correct any misalignments and therefore allow for a clear message to be sent.
You could expose you kids to all the healthy bacteria in the world, but if they have poor spinal health, it won’t be all that relevant.
Regular chiropractic adjustments WILL contribute to healthy immune function for you and your kids!
Did you know that bacteria had such an important role in immune health? Do you currently practice any of these tips in your household? Let me know in the comments!
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