The countdown is on: We have about a month of winter left to
go. At our house each year, by the time we reach this cold and miserable slog
toward spring, we've usually racked up enough sick days to become the Michael
Phelps of missing preschool. And it isn't just our not-quite-4-year-old who's
down for the count every second or third week with the latest virus—our sweet Sharer
of the Year brings most of these right home to us, too.
It feels like our daughter is sick a lot, even though we consider ourselves a moderately healthy family. We have a child who was secretly blessed with the glittered blood of a
unicorn at birth and as a result eats most fruits and vegetables without much complaint.
We're fortunate to be able to pinch pennies in other areas so that we can afford for about two-thirds of our groceries to be organic. We live close to a park, so we're, you know, active, just not in a way I'd ever go so
far as to label "dedicated exercise." With varying amounts of success in any
given week, we limit the amount of sugar and processed ingredients we consume. We've been
able to get our preschooler on board with covering her mouth—a medium amount of
the time, at least—whenever she sprays germs out of her face like a plague-spreading monster, and we've definitely nailed washing our
hands after we use the bathroom. (You're welcome!)
I realize, of course, that a large part of childhood illness is unavoidable. But there are still things we can do to curb sickness. So this season, I decided to try a more proactive approach and sat down to
figure out what else we could be doing to tip the scales of wellness in our
favor. Here are a few tips I uncovered for improved immunity in our kids—no matter
what time of year it is:
Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc and Omega-3 are a few of the powerful vitamins
and minerals that help reinforce our immune systems and enable us to fight
off illnesses. It's ideal if we—that's both adults and kids—consume these
naturally by eating more of the foods that contain them; fresh citrus fruits,
walnuts and spinach are some of the biggies to add to our plates. But
if your preschooler happens to possess the superhuman ability to detect a
single disguised pea from six miles away with laser vision, even though he still somehow cannot
find his shoes when he's LITERALLY STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO THEM, aim
instead for a nightly multivitamin to recoup some of those critical nutrients.
Look, if Jamie Lee Curtis hasn't sold you on the power of
probiotics yet, I don't really know what else to tell you. Over at The Accidental Purist, holistic momma
and blogger Allyson Armistead has a great
post explaining the importance of probiotics in regulating and supporting our
microbiome. Unsure where to start? Here's what Armistead recommends: "The
safest rule of thumb with probiotics is to work with single strain supplements
and two basic building blocks that orchestrate all other strains—Lactobacillus
and Bifidobacterium." There's a dizzying number of brands on the market. However,
says Armistead, "the only brand with scientific case studies and backing (and
one that I use for my family and can vouch for) is made by Natren." For babies
and toddlers, she notes, "I would strongly encourage a very gentle probiotic
powder also made by Natren called Life Start."
I know, I know, for many parents, this is our single, only wish—for both us and
our kids. But while there are plenty of times when I can do absolutely nothing
to control the third night in a row involving a 4 a.m. wake up, there are
also times when we (by which I mostly mean me, because my husband is a toddler bedtime
champion) could move the goodnight train along a little faster. In an
article for Parents Magazine, Dr.
Kathi Kemper, director of the Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and
Research at Children's Hospital, points to sleep deprivation as a major
contributor to illness because of the way it reduces the ability of our immune
systems to fight harmful microbes. The more well-rested we are, the better our
bodies can work to protect us.
4. Don't be germ
You heard me. Many of us have already heeded the warnings to lay
off the antibacterial soaps and sanitizers, but Dr. Rajeev Kurapati, a family physician
at St. Elizabeth Hospital, adds, "The recent mantra for improving immunity
in kids is to increase their exposure to pets and gardening, as well as to
use less hand sanitizer, so they build natural immunity by themselves and help
build microbiome." The good news: if you're employing the five-second rule for dropped food at your house, you're probably already aces on this one.
Most of this advice feels like common sense, but it's easy to
let these details slip through the cracks in the everyday chaos that's
characteristic of most of our lives. I totally get it. But with a renewed commitment
to taking our nightly probiotics, trying for at least eight hours of sleep, and
possibly flossing (hey, for good measure), I'm cheering on you and your little ones
to a healthier season.