Babies’ immune systems aren’t as strong as adults yet. Read on for information about how your little one’s immune system develops and what you can do to support it. This article is not a substitute for medical advice.
In the first few weeks of life, your baby has some ‘passive immunity’ leftover from the womb and birth. In the third trimester, antibodies are passed from mum to baby through the placenta. During birth, bacteria from the vagina transfer to the baby, exposing them to more germs before they are exposed to the world. Colostrum, found in breastmilk, contains vitamins and minerals and naturally boosts the baby’s immune system. The formula contains similar vitamins and minerals, though it is not quite as strong as an immune booster.
Passive immunity does wear off, at which time your baby’s immune system continues to develop on its own. Humans build antibodies when we come into contact with germs, so babies’ immune systems can get stronger the more they are exposed to the world. However, some germs, like people who are sick, can infect baby so it is still important to take certain precautions and keep up with their immunization schedule.
How can I support my baby’s immune system?
While your baby is still under six months old (before they switch to solid foods), you can support their immune system by:
- Breastfeeding if you choose to do so
- Limiting visitors to the home
- Making sure visitors are not sick
- Asking visitors to wash their hands before touching baby
- Vaccinations in accordance with the baby’s vaccination schedule
- Talking to your doctor or pharmacist about baby probiotics
Once your baby can start eating solids, support their immune system through diet by:
- If you choose to breastfeed, continuing to breastfeed even after introducing solids if you can.
- Including zinc through foods like meat, dairy products (such as milk and cheese), and wholegrain bread and cereals.
- Including iron through foods like beef and lamb, fortified breakfast cereals, leafy greens like kale and spinach, and legumes like dried peas, beans, or lentils.
- Including prebiotics through foods like bananas, apples, peas, onions, chickpeas, and oats.
- Including vitamin D through foods like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and eggs. Spending time outdoors with appropriate sun protection like baby sunscreen, hats, and long sleeves can also increase vitamin D.
- Natural yoghurt, pureed fruit, and veggies are excellent baby diet staples.
For further information about your baby’s immune system and how to support it, also ask your family health nurse or GP.