powering up your baby's protection

Things you probably should know about boosting your baby’s immune system

A strong immune system is what protects the body against various common illnesses. However, in case of a baby, it takes time for the immune system to develop and become as robust as an adult’s. And you should also know that at the same age, the immune system in two babies might not be the same. Worry no more though! Read all about the ways in which you can improve your little one’s immunity and make him or her healthier.

Development of the immune system

Bacteria or other foreign bodies entering the bloodstream are called antigens. And immunity is a defence mechanism against these microorganisms, and toxins produced by pathogens or foreign proteins. A specific protein is produced in the body as a response to the antigen, and is called an antibody or an immune body.

Now, the mother’s milk is rich in antibodies and is transferred to the foetus through the placenta or breast milk. These antibodies guard the mucosal surfaces, prevent the entry of pathogens, and provide protection against several illnesses that might develop when a baby grows up.

Infections and impact on growth

Infants are typically more susceptible to infections as their immune system is not well-developed. The foetus in the uterus is normally protected by the placental barrier. But, some pathogens might be able to cross this barrier, causing infections that result in growth and development delays, and sometimes, even death.

The most common infectious diseases affecting infants include:

  • Measles
  • Diarrhoea
  • Pneumonia
  • Acute respiratory diseases
  • Anaemia
  • Parasitic infections
  • Malaria

Immunity is the resistance exhibited by the host towards the injury caused by microorganisms and their toxins. There are two types of immunity, innate and acquired. Immature neonatal response to microorganisms can

  • Increase susceptibility to infections
  • Lead to the development of allergies
  • Reduce response to vaccines

Inadequate food intake can lead to weight loss, poor growth, and decreased immunity against infections.

Ways to improve immunity in babies

Breastfeeding: Breast milk contains proteins, fats, sugars, and antibodies, which help support your baby’s immune system. Breastfeeding guards against infections, allergies, diarrhoea, pneumonia, and also enhances brain power. Breastfed babies are less prone to infections when compared to formula-fed babies.

Vaccination: Vaccinate your baby to get the best protection against dangerous diseases. Vaccines prevent serious illnesses such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, influenza, and chickenpox. So, follow the routine childhood immunization schedule as recommended by your doctor. Keep a vaccination record ready and report any side-effects to your doctor immediately.

Foods that boost immunity in babies

Support your child’s health by providing these immune-boosting foods for babies.

  • Colourful vegetables – Foods packed with vitamin A, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and green leafy vegetables, help to fight many infections. Sweet potatoes can be baked and served without peeling the skin. Carrots taste best when boiled or steamed.
  • Berries - Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are rich sources of vitamin C and antioxidants that can guard against several illnesses. Mix berries with other fruits like apples, bananas, or pears, to make them more appealing.
  • Yoghurt - Yoghurt is an excellent source of immunity-boosting protein, which helps in the growth and repair of cells in the body, including white blood cells. Yoghurt promotes immunity and protects against gastrointestinal diseases. You can serve yogurt with fruits or crushed nuts.
  • Citrus fruits - These fruits are rich in vitamin C and include oranges, kiwis, and papayas. Vitamin C accelerates wound healing, minimises cell damage, and protects the body against various illnesses.
  • Vitamin D foods - Vitamin D helps build strong bones and keeps your child fit and healthy. The best sources of this vitamin are fortified milk, complementary foods with added vitamin D, and fishes like rawas and ahi. Natural sunlight is also a good source of vitamin D. However, avoid exposure to the sun between 10 am and 4 pm.
  • Fish – Rawas and ahi are great choices for boosting immunity in kids. They contain omega-3 fatty acids which increase the number of white blood cells, to combat infections efficiently.
  • Zinc - Cereals, lean meats, nuts, whole grains, and beans are rich in zinc, which is essential to boost your baby’s immunity. Zinc increases the production of white blood cells and promotes wound healing.
  • Garlic - Allicin, a sulphur compound found in garlic, helps fight harmful bacteria and viruses, and increases the white blood cell count, thereby boosting the immune system. Garlic is a natural flavouring agent and can be added to many savoury recipes.
  • Nuts - Nuts are rich in proteins, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Nut variants include almonds, pistachios, dates, walnuts, and raisins. Try giving nuts or dry fruits in the powdered form to young children.

Be aware of anti-nutrients

Anti-nutrients have zero nutritional value and have the potential to block the absorption of essential nutrients. Hence, the following should be consumed in moderate quantities:

  • Sugar – Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that only provides calories and no other nutrient.
  • Sodium and phosphorus – Sodium and phosphorus-based food additives also serve as taste enhancers. Increased levels of either of them can hamper the metabolism of essential fatty acids.
  • Free radicals – Free radicals are produced naturally by our body and can cause damage to cells, DNA, proteins, and cell membranes. Some foods like fried foods can produce these free radicals. Antioxidants act against free radicals either by reducing their formation or neutralising them. Antioxidants can be acquired through fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, nuts, berries, and broccoli.
  • Non-essential fatty acids – These are present in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and should be used in moderation. Steaming or baking food instead of frying can be a healthy choice.

So, now, you have all the information you need to enhance your baby’s immunity and gift him a healthy life. Keep the above tips on vaccination, breastfeeding and diet in mind, and also consult your child’s doctor for better guidance.