Image: Carrington Joy Tracy, daughter of Puracy Co-Founder
Babies coo, cry, giggle, and sleep. They also grow at what feels like a breakneck, blink-and-you'll-miss-it speed. There's more to that growth than meets the eye; as babies hit milestones like rolling over and crawling, they're also making important strides in their internal development.
One of the most significant developments during infancy is that of the immune system. When baby is born, her body can't yet fully fend for itself—it relies instead on passive immunity, passed down from mom or ready-made antibodies. It's not until babies are around three to six months of age that they're able to produce antibodies on their own, and the overall immune system isn't fully developed until children are four or five years old.
Suffice it to say, sniffles and coughs are facts of life as baby adjusts to life outside the womb. But as parents, we'll do absolutely everything we can to limit the risk of our little ones developing illnesses. Boosting baby's immune system is a great place to start—here are six potential ways of doing so:
Provide baby with immunity-boosters in the womb:
Research has shown that what you eat while pregnant may affect not only your baby, but up to three future generations as well (talk about pressure!). Babies in the womb will take all the nutrients they can get, whether you have any to spare or not—so the more you can provide, the stronger their immunity will become. Your diet while pregnant should be packed with nutrient-dense foods that deliver calcium, iron, folic acid, and vitamins A, C, D, B6, and B12. Powerhouse foods like broccoli, bananas, leafy greens, and nuts deliver multiple benefits in a single serving.
Bodies (pregnant or otherwise) absorb nutrients best through food, but many obstetricians advise supplementing with vitamins as necessary. The prenatal vitamin that sits best with your stomach, dietary restrictions, and lifestyle is up to you. We recommend looking for one made from 100% whole food sources, since these tend to be easier to absorb and therefore gentler on a delicate stomach.
Consider your birth plan, too:
Each birth is an absolute miracle—and it's also a critical factor for determining baby's future immune system. How you're able to deliver is entirely dependent upon your risk factors, birth plan, and body, but some studies show that babies who pass through the birth canal (as opposed to cesarean delivery) might be given a natural leg up on immunity.
That's because natural birth exposes baby to a whole slew of beneficial microbes, some of which could have a positive impact on a child's long-term health. While C-section births are, at times, medically necessary, overall rates have risen 48% in the United States since 1996—suggesting a trend in elective cesarean delivery. As always, please consult with your doctor, but if it's possible for you and your body, research indicates that a natural birth might reduce the odds of babies going on to develop Type 1 Diabetes, hay fever, and asthma.
For mothers who do plan to deliver via C-section, there's a growing body of evidence that suggests vaginal swabbing post-birth may yield some of the same benefits as natural birth.
A healthy diet starts early:
Again, this is dependent upon your lifestyle and other personal factors, but studies have shown that breastfeeding could help protect baby from infections and immunologic diseases, like allergies. That's because nature has wired breast milk to help baby strengthen his immune system; the thick milk produced in the first couple of days post-birth, known as colostrum, is especially rich in antibodies.
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Once baby is on solid foods, her tiny tummy will flourish when given superfoods like bananas, sweet potatoes, and avocado. Parents recommends hefty servings of carrots, green beans, oranges, and strawberries, all of which contain immunity-boosting phytonutrients like vitamin C and carotenoids.
Exercise, preferably outside:
Everyone, including babies, benefits from exercise. The more activity your little one gets, the more likely he is to tucker himself out—and get the rest that's so vital for his development.
Whenever possible, get baby outside for her "workout." The fresh air provides respite from potential indoor pollutants, and the general outdoors works wonders on both developed and developing immune systems. Spending time outside may even promote good vision down the line.
But do avoid exposure to direct sunlight until your newborn is at least six months old; baby's sensitive skin burns easily and is too absorbent for the chemicals found in typical sunscreens.
Encourage baby to catch some ZZZs:
Babies sleep—a lot. Newborns need up to 18 hours of sleep per day, but they're doing more than spending time in the throes of the REM stage. When babies sleep, they're also letting their body get the rest it needs to help fight colds and flush out disease-causing toxins.
Setting consistent sleep structure, both for naps and nighttime, will give your baby's immune system more time to recharge and strengthen itself.
Eliminate pathogenic viruses—but not too harshly:
Dilemma: You want baby to develop a healthy immune system, which requires keeping a clean, hygienic environment. But you also know that keeping your baby's environment too clean may prove detrimental to your child's long-term health.
The solution: Gently eliminate viruses with natural methods. It's easy to make your own household cleaners. Alternatively, you can opt to buy natural, plant-based home essentials that have been formulated by PhD chemists with families in mind—like the products available in the Puracy household and baby care lines.
With a brand-new baby comes a brand-new immune system, and both need constant tending to. Making sure baby has proper nutrition, gets plenty of sleep, and is exposed to gentle, hypoallergenic cleaning supplies should help keep him and his immunity growing strong.