When you’re a mum, there’s always bugs flying around, but there’s lots you can do to build up your baby’s bug-fighting skills…
It’s chilly out and, with those cold, blustery days, comes the inevitable deluge of winter bugs. The reason your baby is more likely to get ill is because cold weather lowers your resistance, plus we stay inside more, so germs are exchanged much more easily. But there’s lots you can do to keep your little one healthy, so you can both breeze through the freeze.
Pop a supplement
If you’re breastfeeding a baby under three months, your main defence is to carry on. ‘Breastmilk contains all the nutrients and immune-boosting goodness your baby needs,’ says GP Catti Moss. ‘If your baby is older than three months, you could give her a daily multivitamin.’ Try Vitabiotics WellKid Baby Syrup (£5.75, boots.com). Or, for over-threes, try Haliborange Kids Omega-3 Syrup With Vitamins A, C, D & E (£12.99, boots.com).
Once your baby is weaned, you can boost her vitamins through food. ‘Zinc is known to strengthen your immune system, so it can resist infections like colds,’ says nutritionist Amanda Ursell. Find it in red meat, oily fish and wholegrain cereals. ‘And studies show that, while vitamin C won’t prevent a cold, it will reduce its severity and length.’ Fill up on berries, citrus fruits, dark green vegetables and brightly coloured peppers.
It’s important your baby gets plenty of fresh air, even when you don’t feel like going out. ‘Vitamin D is a crucial bone-building, immune-boosting vitamin, which comes mainly from exposure to the sun,’ says Amanda. ‘Even in winter, your child gets a little bit of sun whenever they step outside in daylight – 20 minutes is enough. Fresh air also clears out her lungs, and going outside usually leads to some exercise, which will boost everyone’s mood.’ It also reduces your baby’s exposure to other people’s bugs, so make your way to your nearest park.
Wrap her up
Although experts are split on this, there is research that suggests being physically cold makes you more likely to catch a bug, as it lowers your immunity. One study, by the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff, found that volunteers who kept their bare feet in icy water for 20 minutes were more likely to develop a cold in the following week than those who didn’t.
‘Being cold stresses a child’s immune system, making her more susceptible to illness,’ says Angela Chalmers, Boots pharmacist. ‘Layer her up with long-sleeved T-shirts, fleeces, hats and scarves. It’s better to take off layers as needed, rather than putting her in one big coat that can cause her to overheat when she runs around.’ Take off soggy hats and socks as soon as possible, too – they cause body temperature to drop quickly.
Staying hydrated is as important in winter as in summer. ‘Water helps our kidneys to flush out toxins, so it’s vital for fighting illness,’ says Amanda. In addition, when your baby has a cold, her mucus will be drier and thicker. Drinking plenty of water will help to flush it, along with any other infections, from the body. ‘If your toddler is poorly and drinking less than usual, water down her favourite juice as an incentive to drink,’ says Catti.
'Nothing reduces your baby’s odds of getting ill as much as hand washing'
Don’t be a soap dodger
You’ve been at playgroup with your crawling baby and not only has she come back filthy, but she’s been mingling with the snottiest kids in town. ‘Nothing reduces your baby’s odds of getting ill as much as hand washing, especially once she’s mobile and picking up more germs,’ says Angela.
Hand gels are great if you’re out, but bear in mind, they don’t usually beat the norovirus, which causes vomiting. ‘Good old-fashioned warm water with soap kills nearly all bugs, including this one,’ says Catti. With younger babies, wipe their hands after you’ve changed them, and keep toys clean. Until your tot is mobile, she’s more likely to catch germs from shared toys than from physical contact with other children.
Reset her body clock
As well as making children cranky, lack of sleep leaves them more prone to infection. If you haven’t done so already, establish a bed and naptime routine. A recent study at University College London found children who had regular bedtimes slept more soundly. Fresh air also helps them slumber – research at Liverpool John Moores University found that being outside in the late afternoon helped babies and children rest better at night, because it sets their circadian rhythm – their internal body clock.
So, what are your top tips for staying healthy over winter? Let us know in the comments box below.