They’re growing up so fast, but what about their immune system?

The first 1000 days of life – from preconception to their second birthday – is an important period in your child’s immune system journey. Being exposed to new bacterium and viruses for the first time, and generating their first antibodies to fight them, at this age is an important basis for the healthy future of your child.

But what is it about those first few years of life that make it so important?

The first 1000 days have become a focus for health professionals and early learning specialists, as it is recognised as a key window of growth and development. The most rapid period of brain growth happens at this time – around one per cent a day – mostly in language processing and the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls attention, inhibition and flexibility).

It’s also essential to immunity development. So-called “nest protection” is a valuable aid in the beginning, where mothers pass on antibodies to their children, giving them their first barriers of defense. But this alone isn’t enough.

The immunity that a child inherits passively from their mother gradually decreases within the first few months of their life, so it’s important to foster an environment that encourages the development of a strong immune system from a young age.

Making sure your child’s immune system has guts

Research shows that up to 80% of immune cells are located in the gut, and while the full extent of the connection isn’t fully understood, it’s clear that immunity and the gut microbiome are tightly linked. While cultivation of gut bacteria starts at birth, it’s vital that they can flourish as your child grows.

Microbiota are in constant contact with the immune system, so they can influence our immune function. Promoting healthy intestinal flora strengthens your child’s natural defences. Developing a tolerance to good bacteria in the gut is important as a type of maintenance for the immune system, too, and to make sure its poised for facing off other unwelcome pathogens. 

A balanced diet is essential for the development of healthy intestinal flora, and includes plenty of dietary fibre, like veggies, fruit and legumes. The fibre in these foods is indigestible by humans but can be fermented in the large intestine by our gut bacteria, serving as a kind of “food” for them.

Formula is a great choice when it comes to helping boost your child’s resistance to harmful bacteria. Aptamil is fortified with zinc, a natural mineral that studies have shown is crucial to the development of a healthy immune system. It also includes vitamin A, which helps lower susceptibility to intestinal and respiratory infections, and D, which triggers white blood cells to prevent the development of autoimmune diseases.

A blocked nose is training for the immune system

Children tend to contract 5-10 colds or flu a year because they are being exposed to pathogens for the first time, and with limited defences. Contrast this with adults, who catch 2-4 colds per year, and you can see how effective the immune system becomes at fighting back. In addition, children with siblings are at a higher risk of contracting an illness. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sharing these germs helps train immature immune system to fight future, and potentially more serious, illnesses.

As well as embracing mild colds (always see a doctor if you are concerned), there are other ways you can help upskill your child’s immune system, particularly in the first 1000 days.

·       Regular exercise, preferably in the fresh air and even in winter or in bad weather

·       Sufficient sleep and rest, avoiding stress and noise

·       Avoid extreme hygiene — natural contact with germs in the environment promotes a strong immune system

·       Vaccinations — which are recommended for children in the first year of life

·       Good nutrition

 

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Supporting choices for mums

Before you enter, please read this important statement:

If you are able, breastfeeding is best. It provides all the nutritional health benefits as Mother Nature intended. In readying for and during breastfeeding, it's important that mums eat a healthy, balanced diet.

If you're considering bottle feeding, seek professional medical advice first. Introducing bottle feeding either partially or exclusively, may reduce the supply of your own breast milk, which makes reversing the decision not to breast feed difficult. Also consider the social and financial implications, such as convenience and cost over time.

When using infant formula, always follow the instructions for use carefully, unnecessary or improper use may make your baby ill.

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