Is there a way to keep your child healthy at daycare, where one bug seems to take out the whole roll? Naturopaths Natasha Berman and Asti Renaut share some great suggestions to boost your child's immunity.
Have you ever walked into a daycare or early childhood centre and been met with a cacophony of chesty coughs or an unseemly spread of streaming noses? Keeping kids well in daycare can be a constant battle for some parents, as their children are exposed to so many bugs, and even kids who have a hard time sharing don't seem quite so possessive about their germs! Children in these environments are certainly vulnerable to illness, but still, some kids get sick and some don't - why is this? Well, there's a genetic component for sure, but there's also a whole lot you can do to keep your kids robust, vibrant, and healthy at daycare. The absolute basics are good nutrition, adequate sleep, and lack of stress.
Nutrition provides our building blocks. We truly are what we eat. It doesn't take an expert to devise a good diet; we know both instinctively and from a multitude of media what is good for us and our children. Fresh is best, always. Where possible, start food from scratch and avoid pre-packaged foods. Read labels and try to avoid added sugars, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and flavourings. Vegetables are the kings and queens, fruits are gifts from God. Good proteins (fish, egg, lean red meat, legumes) are essential for growth and immune function. Whole-grains are so much better than their pale, refined cousins. And as for sugar, the goal is reduction - especially when your child is sick. Sugar and dairy foods are mucous-forming, so aim to reduce or eliminate when your child is unwell. Naturally sweet options include:
Molasses and maple syrup (pure) have higher nutrient levels (calcium, iron) than other sources of sweetness. Agave syrup is also delicious.
Stevia is a plant that is naturally sweet without having any sugar content.
Where possible, avoid sugars and use natural whole fruit instead.
Dilute fruit juices at least 50% with water, as these are very high in sugar also.
Add fresh herbs to foods for added antioxidant support and natural anti-microbial activity (eg thyme, rosemary). Use parsley like it is going out of fashion for vitamin C, folate, calcium, and iron.
Sleep is our sustenance. It is the place we go to grow and to heal, especially when we are little. Enough sleep is so important, as is the quality of sleep. If your child is not sleeping well, for any reason, don't give up. There is much that can be done to make your nights more pleasant, and your child much happier by day. Seek professional advice if need be, from your doctor, Plunket nurse, a sleep expert, or a behavioural specialist.
We think of this as an adult issue, but our children get stressed too. Stress can significantly suppress our immune function. If your child is showing signs of stress, this is something to be addressed. Children need quiet time. Daycare is busy! Lots of people, lots of kids, lots of stimulation. Make sure your child has some quiet time to wind down and enjoy their own space. And, of course, some one-on-one time with you. And cuddles. Lots of cuddles.
In our view, there is a cultural need to change our view of common childhood illness from something to be suppressed or medicated to something that should be supported for the greater good of a child's immune system development. There has been much in the media of late concerning the overuse of paracetamol in young children, with detrimental effects ranging from increased risk of allergy and asthma through to liver damage. As with all medicines, there are appropriate times for use of paracetamol, but even immunologists and paediatricians are now expressing concern at the way paracetamol is marketed to parents and the ways in which is it used for all manner of symptoms. Supporting illness may mean keeping your child at home when he is sick and allowing him a period of convalescence. Ideally, we want kids to be healthier after an illness than they were beforehand!
5 steps to healthy daycare kids
Beyond the basic steps outlined previously, here are some choice tips gleaned from many years of helping parents see their kids right after recurrent illness and low immunity. Even other naturopath friends are amazed at how much extra support is needed when their kids start daycare, which just goes to show, diet and lifestyle can only go so far, and sometimes, in this day and age, we need to pull out all the stops. We all know that kids are in daycare at younger and younger ages, which makes extra immune support even more important.
Probiotics: There is an abundance of research now around the use of probiotics in daycare, concluding that specific strains of beneficial bacteria most definitely prevent the incidence of illness in children at daycare (both respiratory and tummy bugs), and also reduce the length of time kids are needing to stay home if they do get sick.
Echinacea: This really is a little powerhouse of a herb - it stops the growth of bacteria and fungi and has anti-viral and immune boosting activity.
Vitamin C: Proven to increase resistance to bacterial and viral infection. We find that once parents know about echinacea and vitamin C, they never look back. Both of these can be given at a daily preventative or maintenance dose depending on age, and then increased quite radically as a treatment (at least four times, sometimes five or six) if your child does get sick. Doing this at the first sign of illness can dramatically, and favourably, alter the course of events. We can't stress enough how important it is to get a good quality product, though, as echinacea has such a good reputation that everyone wants a piece of the action. Look for a product that only uses the root of the plant, which is where the active constituents are highest, or ask your practitioner for a good recommendation.
Allergenics testing: The increased incidence in food intolerance and allergy makes it prudent to get your child tested to see if any foods or environmental irritants are causing unnecessary reactions and putting strain on your child's immune system. Reducing triggers for inflammation can vastly improve immune function and reduce the incidence of infection. Visit www.allergenicstesting.com to find out more.
Cod liver oil: Why, oh why has this hated bane of many an adult's childhood existence made such a comeback? Three jolly good reasons: Vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Vitamin A is of special significance to any discussion of immunity, because it interferes with viral replication, and increases the production of antibodies. Good stuff. Most naturally brightly-coloured foods like carrots, pumpkin, and kumara have vitamin A too, but when you need an extra boost for your littlies, get the good oil (even though it does still taste revolting).
Some children may also be low in zinc or iron, and should be assessed by a GP, naturopath, medical herbalist, or appropriate health professional. Often, if a child is low in one of these nutrients, they could be low in the other. Many of the deficiency signs are similar, such as recurrent infection and poor recovery. Mineral supplements should always be age-appropriate, in terms of the form and the dose, so don't just top up at the supermarket.
These little morsels are just the tip of the iceberg. The natural medicine cabinet has so many choice tools for supporting children through their days at daycare.
If you're struggling to keep those lurgies away from your kids, don't be discouraged, or think your child is a lost cause. Sometimes it's just a tweak that is needed, sometimes it's an overhaul, but there is always hope, because our children are amazing, growing, thriving and vital little human beings, and with the right support - they can grow into robustly healthy adults.
Natasha Berman and Asti Renaut are experienced naturopaths. Quintessence Free Kids Clinics are available in Auckland and Christchurch. www.qhealth.co.nz