Healthy Eating To Support Your Baby's Immune System
YOUR BABY’S IMMUNE SYSTEM AND HOW IT DEVELOPS
It might be hard to imagine, but your child’s immune system started developing before she was even born. Your antibodies were passed to your baby through the placenta, and they continue to protect her in the first months of life, against the bacteria, viruses or allergens that you’ve already been exposed to. As her immune systems develops, your baby will create her own antibodies. Mild childhood illnesses stimulate the immune system, triggering the creation of more antibodies that fight illnesses and prevent them in the future.
Amazingly, the immune system keeps a record of every bacteria or virus it has been exposed to, which is why it responds so quickly the next time you come into contact with the same illness.
NUTRITION BUILDS YOUR BABY’S NATURAL DEFENCES
Much research over the past years has been focused on the gut. Yes, the gut is the home of most of our immune cells! That’s why a healthy balanced diet is key in promoting a healthy immune system. From the moment your child is born, breastmilk is the best source of nutrition, providing all the necessary nutrients and factors, including antibodies that support their immune system. When you start weaning, a wide range of nutrient-rich foods, including good sources of prebiotics, will help build your child’s natural defences and contribute to their long-term health.
DIET AND CORONAVIRUS: THE FACTS
CORONAVIRUS is an infectious disease. There is currently no evidence that any specific foods or diet can protect against or treat CORONAVIRUS.
It is advised to eat a healthy balanced diet, rich in fruit and vegetables that are a good source of nutrients that support the immune system. This applies to adults and children.
Good hygiene practices, social distancing, self-isolation – especially of those who show symptoms, are currently the best ways to prevent infection.
In general, our health always benefits a balanced diet, regular exercise and good sleeping habits. Now more than ever, we need to take extra good care of ourselves by observing all the recommendations issued by our health authorities.
HOW NUTRIENTS SUPPORT YOUR BABY’S IMMUNE SYSTEM
Your child’s growth and development depend on a healthy diet. We know the benefits of the 5 food groups, and the importance of not consuming too much sugar and salt. But when it comes to supporting the immune system, specific vitamins, minerals and prebiotics play an essential role. Nutrient-rich foods can be incorporated into your child’s diet after 6 months, in accordance with your paediatrician’s recommendations.
Iron is essential to the formation of haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body. Iron supports cognitive development in children. Iron deficiencies, known as anaemia, can affect the immune response, leading to an increase in infections in children.
Thankfully, there’s a wide array of iron-rich foods to choose from, including red meat & plant-based alternatives, beans& nuts, wholegrains such as brown rice, leafy green vegetables – such as kale and spinach, plus fortified breakfast cereals and infant and follow-on formula and young child formula.
Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant used by white blood cells to fight infections, and it also helps with the absorption of iron. Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables, such as oranges, kiwis, blackcurrants, peppers, broccoli and spinach.
Zinc is a mineral found in all cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system to fight off invading bacteria and viruses by creating new cells and enzymes. It also helps to heal wounds. Your child’s daily zinc requirements can be found in nutrient-rich foods, such as meat, dairy products (such as milk and cheese) and wholegrain breads and cereals.
Vitamin D plays a part in the normal functioning of your child’s immune system, which is your child´s first line of defence against infections. Vitamin D is also needed to absorb calcium in the body, contributing to the development of your child´s bones and teeth.
Normally, exposure to sunshine contributes to our natural daily need of Vitamin D. As many of us are currently in confinement to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, we may not be getting our daily dose of sunshine. So, it’s especially important to ensure we’re all getting enough vitamin D, be it through diet or vitamin D supplementation. Please consult your paediatrician for information regarding Vitamin D supplementation.
The best dietary sources of vitamin D are oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, eggs, some mushrooms, fortified breakfast cereals or infant and follow-on formula as well as young child formula – check the label.
Vitamin A supports the immune system by strengthening white blood cells and generating the antibody immune response. Vitamin A also helps in the formation of cells as your child develops.
You can find vitamin A in animal-based products, such as liver and eggs, and dairy-based foods, such as yoghurts and cheese. The body can obtain vitamin A from some fruits, like mangos, and from dark leafy greens, like cabbage and kale, as well as from orange vegetable, like carrots and sweet potatoes.
Prebiotics encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut while protecting against harmful bacteria. In addition, fibre in foods such as wholegrains are important for gut health.
Prebiotics are found in bananas, chicory, onions, tomatoes and perhaps more surprisingly garlic. Certain infant formulas, as well as follow-on milks and young child formulas are fortified with prebiotics and the latter ones can complement a balanced diet.
The combination of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, protein sources such as meat or fish, fats and dairy will provide your child with the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are essential to a healthy immune system. In times of confinement, careful meal planning and healthy snacks ensure that you’ll be able to provide your child with the most balanced diet possible.
Questions about feeding and nutrition?
Our midwives, nutritionists and feeding advisors are always on hand to talk about feeding your baby. So if you have a question, just get in touch.