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6 top tips to prevent illness in winter

Your little one probably won’t get through winter without catching a bug, but you can limit the time he’s under the weather…

Keep the windows open

It might seem odd to open windows when the temperature drops but as health visitor Melissa Kerr explains, it's important to keep your house well ventilated in winter. 

‘A through-breeze helps clear away the germy droplets that spray out during sneezing and coughing,’ she says.

And as the optimal heat for babies is only 18℃, don’t be tempted to make your home too toasty. ‘When the house gets hot, a baby’s mucus membranes start to dry out,’ explains Melissa. ‘These act as a lining in our body and help protect us from germs. If they dry out, they don’t work as well.’ Turn the heating to 18℃ and put a bowl of cold water on or near your radiators. As the water evaporates, it will help to put moisture back into the air.

Check vaccinations are up to date 

Babies need to be vaccinated at two, three and four months and again between 12-13 months. Completing this full series of immunisations will keep your little one safe from a range of serious childhood illnesses including diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, Hib, meningitis C, rotavirus, pneumonia, measles, mumps and rubella.

While you should receive a letter from your doctor’s surgery advising you to make an appointment, it is worth keeping an eye on your diary to make sure they happen at the right time. Use your baby’s red health book as a guide and take it along to the appointment – the nurse will need to sign it and record the batch numbers of the jabs. Read about your baby’s immunisation calendar here.

Get some sunshine every day (if you can)

A healthy immune system is key to your baby fighting off any bugs he picks up. ‘To stay healthy and for their system to run at an optimum level, babies need the right amounts of vitamins and minerals,’ says Melissa. ‘If they’re deficient in any, that has a knock-on effect on their immune systems. One of the key vitamins is vitamin D, which sunlight provides.’ Over the winter, when the sun is weaker, vitamin D levels tend to drop. To boost them, try to spend 20 minutes out in the sunlight between 11am and 3pm with your baby. 

During winter, when the sun is weaker, try to spend 20 minutes out in the sunlight between 11am and 3pm with your baby

The NHS also recommends babies between six months and five years of age take a vitamin drop containing vitamins A, D and E. Babies who are fed infant formula do not need vitamin drops unless they are receiving less than 500ml of infant formula a day, as these products are fortified with vitamin D. If you are breastfeeding and you didn’t take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy, you may be advised to give your baby drops containing vitamin D from one month old.

Keep hands and surfaces virus-free

Washing hands and wiping down surfaces should become second nature during winter to reduce the transfer of germs. 

‘The virus called RSV, which causes bronchiolitis and pneumonia, can live on your skin for 30 minutes,’ says health visitor Karen Afford. ‘And on a surface, like a kitchen counter or a hand towel, for up to five hours. So wipe surfaces down, wash your hands regularly and minimise the use of towels for drying your hands.’ It is also worth thoroughly wiping down highchairs and tables when you’re out in public spaces.

Limit dummy use

Studies have shown that children who use dummies may be more prone to ear infections. ‘One theory is that if they are using dummies in an environment like a nursery, with other children around, there’s a greater chance of bacteria getting onto the dummy and transferring to the child,’ says Anne Schilder, Research Professor and Professor of Paediatric Otorhinolaryngology at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital. There’s also a theory that sucking may have an adverse effect on a child’s middle ear pressure, although limiting the use of a dummy may take some perseverance. You can make sure that your child’s dummy stays sterile while out and about with Milton’s portable dummy steriliser. 

‘When mucus is eaten, the bacteria it contains can get swallowed too, allowing germs to get in.’

Limit nose-picking if you can

The easiest places for germs to get into your baby’s system is through his mouth and eyes. So it’s a problem when an older baby picks his nose and then puts his fingers in his mouth. ‘The mucus in noses traps bacteria and stops it from infecting us,’ says Melissa. ‘When mucus is eaten, the bacteria it contains can get swallowed too, allowing germs to get in.’ Explaining to a toddler that those bogies are full of things that can make him feel poorly will usually cut down on nose-picking.

If you’ve got a toddler and a baby, encourage your older child to kiss the baby on the top of his head, instead of on his face, to reduce the spread of any germs – particularly if he has a runny nose.

Feed your baby to good health

If your baby has started on solids, try these winter immune boosters, says Sarah Green, Vice Chair of The British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy…

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Home-made apple sauce with cinnamon

The pectin in apples helps to protect the lining of your baby’s gut, keeping his digestive cells working well. And cinnamon is antimicrobial, which means it helps your baby fight off dodgy bacteria. It’s that rare combination of healthy and sweet, as long as you don’t add sugar.
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Home-made chicken stock

Simmer an organic chicken carcass, bones and all, for 4–12 hours (the longer, the better). Keep adding more water so it doesn’t boil dry. You’ll end up with a thick, jelly-like stock full of collagen, which helps to strengthen your baby’s digestive cells. Good gut health is the foundation of a healthy immune system.
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Pureed carrot and avocado

Carrots are a great source of vitamin A, vital for boosting mucus membranes which help protect against germs. Vitamin A is fat soluble so mixing the carrot with avocado – which naturally contains good fats – helps your baby absorb more of the goodness.

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