How to support your baby's immune system with nutrition
The fundamental role of the human body’s immune system is to fight off infections and enable immune responses. However, babies are born with immature immune systems that need particular nutrition to support their development, help keep common childhood illnesses at bay and limit the risk of allergy in later life. A good start is essential. Here are a few steps you can take with your baby’s nutrition to support their immune system.
Breastfeed where possible
Breastfeeding provides many benefits to mother and baby, including protection against viruses and infections. When possible, it is recommended you breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and continue for as long as both you and baby want to.
Introduce nutrient-rich, age-appropriate solids
When your baby is ready to start solids (at around 6 months, but not before 4 months), start introducing solids in purees. Try to include a variety of foods with a focus on certain nutrients that are known to support your baby’s immune system. These include:
Iron is essential to the formation of haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body. Iron deficiency, known as anaemia, can affect the immune response and lead to an increase in infections in children.
Thankfully, there are many iron-rich foods to choose from, including beef and lamb, fortified breakfast cereals, kale and spinach, and legumes like dried peas, beans or lentils.
Zinc is a mineral found in all cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses by creating new cells and enzymes. Support your child’s daily zinc requirements with nutrient-rich foods such as meat, dairy products (such as milk and cheese), and wholegrain breads and cereals.
Vitamin D plays a part in the normal functioning of your child’s immune system. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight on the skin, but this needs careful management for young babies. Remember it’s important to be sun smart. Include dietary sources of vitamin D such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and eggs where you can, and speak to your health care professional if you think your baby might be at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin A supports the immune system by strengthening white blood cells and generating the antibody immune response. Good sources of vitamin A include eggs, yoghurts and cheese. The body can obtain vitamin A from some fruits and vegetables, like mangoes, cabbage, kale, carrots and sweet potatoes.
Your baby’s nutrition is a great weapon in supporting their immune system and helping them fight typical childhood illnesses. The combination of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, protein sources such as meat or oily fish, fats and dairy will give your child the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are essential to support a well-functioning immune system. Careful meal planning and healthy snacks can help ensure that you’ll be able to give your child the most balanced diet possible.
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