By Bethany Lynch
One of the worst things that messes up a healthy routine is illness. Illness can wreak havoc in a matter of hours, and sometimes it is even hard to comfort a sick little one that is only used to sleeping in their own bed. It’s hard to know how much extra sleep to give and even how much food to expect them to eat. This winter/spring, in particular, has seemed to affect almost everyone I know! These rough years are hard to escape completely unscathed but there are several things you can do to give your family the best shot at fighting off illness and lessening the severity of any infections.
A few ago our little family of 3 was attacked by almost every GI bug and respiratory infection that was circulating. We made a few changes the next year, especially since I was having yet another winter baby. Since then we have largely avoided most of the severe illnesses that have been passed around, even with both kids in preschool this year. My daughter has been more susceptible as most kids seem to be their first full year of daycare, preschool. or elementary school, but she and my son had their first round of antibiotics this year (excluding a nasty ingrown toenail, ugh) since they were infants or early toddlers. Not to say that we don’t pass the common cold around once or twice a year but overall I would say we saw a drastic decrease in illnesses since making these changes.
Probiotics are great at building up the good bacteria in the GI tract, and a lot of us already use them during courses of antibiotics. The problem is the antibiotics can also kill the probiotics along with the good and the bad bacteria, and once you stop taking a probiotic the gut flora probably shifts back to being unbalanced. Probiotics are living microorganisms that are similar or the same as those found naturally in our body and may be beneficial to our health. Yogurt is probably the most popular probiotic-containing source, but it is largely pasteurized (even the organic brands) so many if not all of the strains of probiotics are dead or not sufficient in quantity to provide much of an immune benefit. You will see every indication under the sun for probiotics and every strain of probiotic recommended. There are very few side effects to using probiotics, but the use in children is not well-studied. I, personally, saw a huge benefit in taking probiotics while I was breastfeeding. I could literally tell a difference in 24 hours with my daughter’s reflux when I stopped taking them myself. Please ask your pediatrician for advice before routinely administering probiotics to your child. Products I love include Nature’s Plus Animal Parade Acidophikidz (what we currently use) and Udo’s Infant Blend (best bought refrigerated from your local health store so that you don’t have to pay rush shipping charges to keep cold). Also check other products you are giving such as multivitamins to see if probiotics are already included in the formulation.
Oh, how I love Vitamin D! Vitamin D is probably first on my list of beneficial supplements for our family. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that all breastfed infants get 400 IU of vitamin D daily. This is because most formula companies have added it to the formula but most of us moms do not get enough in our diet or even vitamin supplementation to pass through breastmilk. Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, which are especially important for proper bone growth in children. There is also research suggesting that Vitamin D is important in preventing chronic diseases later in life, including immune and cardiovascular diseases. I truly believe that evidence is showing that this could have life-long benefits. Colds every couple of weeks pretty much vanished the following winter for our family after supplementing with Vitamin D drops. My very favorite product is Baby Ddrops®. You literally give your child one drop, which can be placed in their bottle, your finger, or breast. We still use Ddrops, as well as their 1000 IU adult formulation. Just be sure to check the Vitamin D content of any other vitamin preparations you are giving.
I am not going to go into as much detail on Sinupret, as it has not made as much of a difference as the other things I have listed. Honestly, it seems to have helped me more than my children. I made it through last winter without so much as hardly a sniffle by taking 1 pill/day of the adult version anytime I felt like I was coming down with something. It is a German herbal formulation that, reportedly, many Europeans swear by and remember taking during their whole childhood. I probably give it too late, after they have already come down with the sniffles, but I think it is very useful in preventing colds if given early enough.
We all take daily vitamin supplements from whole food sources (with the possible exception of my husband, whom I would argue catches the most colds!). The brands we personally use are Nature’s Plus Animal Parade Gold.
I’ve also used the regular Animal Parade, as well as Rainbow Light Kids One MultiStars. Garden of Life is also a very reputable brand. I know the labels are a bit confusing to compare. Even though I am a huge advocate of real foods and a healthy diet, I think there are things that are lacking from our American diet and use of processed foods. Several of the vitamins in these brands are specifically linked to immune health, and I personally feel completely different on days that I skip my own multivitamin. I do not believe in mega doses or supratherapeutic amounts of any ingredients, but each of the brands I mentioned are made from whole food sources which I feel is the most important thing. They have similar amounts of most ingredients. Their blends are a little different, but they’re made from food…not synthesized in a lab. Synthetic vitamins are most likely not absorbed well at all. Just make sure you read the labels carefully as some contain additional probiotics or Vitamin D3. My kids seem to like the taste of either brand. I like the Animal Parade taste much better than Rainbow Light, and my kids LOVE seeing what animal they got that day…and which animal is going to eat the other! I also only give 1 chewable vitamin daily even though my son could take two.
I know this last one doesn’t sound like a big intervention. It’s not that we didn’t wash our hands before or that I am a huge germaphobe, but as our kids have gotten older, I have realized how much more important it is to closely supervise their hand washing especially during the winter. It is actually one of the most important infection control prevention measures at the hospital and in the unit where I work. I could tell you some crazy stories and even more impressive pictures of bacteria that was cultured from under fingernails (after scrubbing hands) and around every surface of a hospitalized patients’s room…but the patient never touched those surfaces. Oh, and cell phones! Cell phones have been found to have as much bacteria as toilet seats according to some studies! The hospital unit where I work is asking all parents and direct caregivers to place their cell phones in ziploc bags before ever entering the unit. Please check with the manufacturer of your phone and other devices for recommended cleaning/disinfecting. Avoid testing/playing on things like iPads or other display devices without immediately sanitizing your hands as viruses are transmitted extremely easily on oily, glass screens. Rules in our house are wash before/after every meal, wash every time you go potty even if you don’t go, before nap, anytime we come home from public places, or anytime visibly soiled according to mom. I also wash my hands immediately after walking in from work. I do supervise and monitor closely because they go through phases, especially my daughter, of trying to rinse for 3 secs with just water. Teach your children to sing Happy Birthday or Twinkle, Twinkle for the appropriate amount of time to scrub hands, fingers, and nails.
These are my top changes that we have made. One other last thing for you to look into is Grapefuit Seed Extract and Elderberry Extract. I do not have much personal experience but I have several friends that have tried these supplements with great success. I would love to hear what has worked for you!
Bethany is a wife, mom, and pharmacist. She blogs at http://thegracefulmom.com/