A lot of parenting is just plain common sense. But we’ve lived in a world of antibiotics and immunizations for a long time – sometimes I don’t even think about hygiene and good living as a way to stay healthy. So here’s some food for thought during this season of thanks – and opportunities for eating!
Come on, you knew I was going to start with that! But my own opinions set aside, breastfeeding is as close as it gets to magic when it comes to keeping babies healthy. Moms’ milk has antibodies and immunities not only against the illnesses and “predators” she’s come across – she actually makes them on-the-spot for her baby. When a baby nurses, his/her mouth and nose and hands deposit all sorts of interesting things for mom’s immune system to recognize and fight. (Isn’t it fascinating that the breast is very close to some of the centers for making immunities!) That’s why it’s a good idea to….
2. Cuddle the people who cuddle your baby
And if you are going back to work – take a trip to the place your baby will be spending time. Go the week before your baby is ready to start, and walk around. Touch lots of different things – tables, chairs, toys, cribs. This will give your immune system a chance to start fighting all those germs before your baby even gets there.
3. Eat Well/Eat Healthy
Don’t rely on your prenatal vitamins to make up for all the Oreos you’ve been eating. (I’m not saying that Oreos can’t be a part of a healthy day. But they don’t do much for your health status!) Take advantage of fruits and veggies in season – truly, the research shows that an apple a day will help keep the doctor away. Clementines and cuties are a great source of Vitamin C. Squash and pumpkin are a wonderful source of Vitamin A – so is kale. Staying well-fed and well-hydrated will help your body fend off intruders (we learn in nursing school that the skin is your body’s first line of defense against disease).
4. Get outside.
It gives your body a break from all the germs that are breeding on all the surfaces around you. If you walk or exercise a bit besides, even better – exercise helps your body make more natural killer cells, neutrophils and monocytes – an increase in immune function. That little bit of Vitamin D from being out in the winter sunshine will help too. Speaking of breeding germs, take a moment to clean doorknobs, desktops, shopping carts…I’ve personally got a thing about banisters. We keep a canister of one-use wipes with bleach, so we can grab one fast. I’m not big on antibacterials, but a weak bleach solution would even keep the microbiology lab tables clean!
5. Wash hands – not just alcohol sanitizer.
Kids just have to have their hands in all sorts of places – and then in their mouths. So teach them to wash those hands before dinner, and also after going to the bathroom. It’s a great way to teach them the alphabet song, or sing Happy Birthday X 2. If you notice fingernails getting long while you’re washing hands – trim them please! (As a nurse I am careful to keep my fingernails short. You would not believe what can live under those nails – take a look.
Your body wants to do it, and most especially in winter. Turn off your electronics, calm your baby and try going to bed an hour earlier for a few nights. You may be surprised at how much better you feel – and your immune system will thank you for it!
7. Change into play clothes.
Toss the child care or school clothes into the laundry – don’t bring the germs from other families back to your house. I think too about taking a child who’s been at school to visit a grandparent whose immune system is not functioning as well as it used to be….Better to do a bit more laundry than to deal with sick kids.
8. Get some probiotics into your diet.
Once my kids stopped breastfeeding, I wondered how to naturally give them the immune boost that all my good milk gave them. Who knew – Yogurt, pickles, dark chocolate, kefir, sauerkraut – all of these foods will help your kids fight off infections. So if all these other tips don’t work, bring on the homemade chocolate chip cookies. (Hey, try half whole wheat, half white flour. It will make you all feel better in many ways!)
9. Smoking/smoking jacket
Most smokers who have a baby – moms and dads – tell me they are going to only smoke outside. Certainly it’s best to not smoke. And wouldn’t it be lovely to just tell everybody in your life that smokes to stay out of your house and away from your kids. That won’t work if you are the smoker! But the movie stars of the 1930’s had a great idea – the smoking jacket. (I think they did it so they didn’t ruin their expensive clothes with burn holes. But still.) So if you are going outside to smoke, great. It’s better than smoking inside. Since the toxins from smoke can linger in your clothes – keep yourself a “smoking jacket”. Take off the jacket (and preferably leave it hanging in a place away from you – maybe the hallway?) and wash your hands before picking up your baby or hugging your kids. Every little bit helps on this one.
10. Make sure kids stay home when they’re sick
This is a really tough one – our lives are not designed with sick days or extra time in mind. But don’t you hate it when you and your kids pick up everything from work and child care and school? Better rest, more fluids and excellent care are not going to come from other places. They are going to come from you. So as much as possible, keep sick kids home and love them up to help them get better.
When to call the doctor – well, that’s another post! Here’s to a healthy winter!