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A newborn baby’s immune system isn’t as strong as an adult’s and thus their frail bodies are incapable of fighting diseases and illnesses. However, nature has bestowed mothers with the power to pass on their antibodies and immunity to babies. Through breastfeeding and immunization, improving baby immunity is possible. This is especially essential during the first few months when the baby’s health is most vulnerable.
What is the Immune System
The human immune system is a complex network of proteins and cells that is capable of defending our body against infection. When foreign bodies like viruses or bacteria attack our body, the white blood cells in our body recognize them as ‘non-self’ and as a response to the infection, produce antibodies. Antibodies are basically infection-fighting proteins that prevent us from getting sick. The basic task of our immune system is to protect us by recognizing foreign bodies and responding to it accordingly.
When Does a Newborn’s Immune System Develop
The mother passes on much-needed antibodies to its baby through the placenta during the last quarter of the pregnancy. This immunity provides enough protection for the baby to survive the birthing process. The mother’s own immunity levels will determine the amount and type of antibodies that will be passed on to the baby.
At birth, the baby benefits from the bacteria present in the mothers’ vagina during the birthing process. Due to this, the baby’s gut is filled with large quantities of bacteria and this enhances the baby’s immunity further. Breastfeeding and immune system development are closely connected and play an extremely valuable role during the initial months of the infant’s life. Babies who are breastfed immediately after birth receive a fresh infusion of immunity through it. Colostrum, which is the first milk supply produced by the mother after delivery, contains powerful antibodies that can fight infection.
How Long do Babies Carry Their Mother’s Antibodies
Although most mothers are aware of breastfeeding immunity, how long it can protect the baby from illnesses, is a question that needs clarity. The baby builds up passive immunity when the mother passes antibodies to it through the placenta. This generally happens during the last three months of pregnancy and is passive because the baby does not produce the antibodies itself. The mother’s immunity decides which antibodies will be passed on. Let us assume you have had chickenpox in the past, then your baby will receive some of the antibodies needed to fight chickenpox. However, if you haven’t suffered from the disease earlier, your baby won’t be protected.
Immunity in new-borns is temporary and reduces as the baby becomes a few weeks or months older. It is therefore important to begin with the necessary vaccinations as soon as your little one becomes two months old. Immunizations for HiB (Influenza Type B) and whooping cough should be first on your list since immunity to these diseases reduces the quickest. The MMR vaccine (for Measles, Mumps, Rubella) can be given at year 1 since the passive immunity acquired from the mother can hold up till that time.
How to Increase Immunity in Babies
There is a silver lining to every cloud and parents can take heart from the fact that every time your little one falls ill, he is developing newer antibodies. These will be used to fight the same illness in the near future. In the meanwhile, the following tips can help increase immunity in babies:
Breast milk is fortified with all the right ingredients in the right quantities like fats, proteins, sugars, probiotics, and antibodies, essential for supporting your baby’s immune system. All the antibodies developed by the mother to fight germs are passed on to the baby through breast milk. Unfortunately, life-threatening diseases like polio or measles need medical attention and breastfeeding cannot contain them. Also, sometimes mothers are unable to breastfeed due to certain complications and baby food is the only option left.
Gut bacteria, which are extremely important for immunity, can lose their potency if antibiotics are taken. Probiotics are a recommended option for boosting immunity post an antibiotic course. From the safety point of view too, probiotics are safe during late pregnancy and post-delivery phase. But it is best to discuss with your doctor before starting any kind of supplements for the baby. Generally, breast milk and baby food are enough to provide all the necessary vitamins and minerals.
One of the most effective and safe ways of protecting babies from serious diseases is to vaccinate them. Vaccination triggers an immune response in a manner similar to that a bacteria or virus would. Simply put, your baby’s immune system will identify the germ when it comes in contact with the baby in the future. It will then deliver a response that will prevent any serious complications from developing and fight the disease.
4. Proper Nutrition
A healthy diet is the key to strong immunity in babies. By including fruits and vegetables, your baby can receive all the necessary nutrients and have a robust immune system. Vitamin C and antioxidants are needed to fight diseases and this can be provided through immunity boosting agents like strawberries, grapefruits, and guava. Broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and potatoes can be added to a baby’s diet through juices and purees.
5. Physical Activity
Your baby’s immune system can be boosted through physical exercise or play. As toddlers, your baby can start with activities like swimming, gymnastics or simply giving them space to run around can be enough. Babies who are physically active are better equipped to fight bacteria and germs and do not fall ill as frequently as others.
It has been observed that babies who do not sleep for the necessary number of hours become irritable and also tend to fall prey to diseases. Your baby should take proper naps throughout the day and sleep well during the night too. Sleep deprivation is often the cause of babies’ becoming susceptible to infections and diseases. It is necessary to boost their immune system, regain their lost energy and enhance their brain power. You can create an environment that is conducive for your tiny tot to fall asleep (16-18 hours as a new-born and 13-15 hours from 1 year onwards)
7. Germ-Free Environment
By creating a clean and hygienic environment, you will be able to protect your baby’s immune system from being attacked. Make sure your home environment is kept squeaky clean. Wash your baby’s hands and feet often and also ensure that those handling the baby do the same. Babies at this age have a penchant to put everything in their mouths and this allows germs to enter their bodies orally.
8. Smoke-Free Zone
Though smoking is hazardous for all of us, the health of young kids is at great risk as it can damage their health through attacks on the respiratory systems. Smoke toxins are also known to cause damage to the little one’s immune system. Breathing difficulties, asthma, bronchitis and ear infections are risks that your baby could face if it is exposed to smoke regularly.
Immunity Boosting Foods for Babies
The following are common foods to increase immunity in babies and should form an important part of your baby’s diet:
- Garlic: This super food has excellent anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral capabilities which gives it a great ranking as an immunity-boosting food for babies.
- Almonds: This tasty snack contains Vitamin E and can boost immunity in babies.
- Broccoli: Supercharged with Vitamins A, C, and E, broccoli contains many antioxidants and can be fed to babies as a puree or with other meals.
- Bone Broth: Made from chicken or fish, it is useful to help build strong bones and your baby will love its taste too.
- Breast Milk: Studies have proved time and again that breastfed infants face fewer infections and bounce back from illnesses quickly as compared to formula-fed babies. This is the reason why breast milk is a must when it comes to immunity-boosting foods for infants.
About Premature Baby’s Immune Systems
Premature babies are always at a higher risk of falling prey to infection because their immune systems aren’t fully developed when they announce their arrival. They do not receive enough antibodies from their mothers since they are delivered earlier than others.
Your baby is new to the external environment yet and will face a challenging time when it comes to remaining immune to infections. Keep a close watch and make sure you inform the doctor if you notice signs like fever, dehydration, breathing issues or change in skin or lip color.
Also Read: Healthy Foods for Infants