The immune system is found in a wide array of areas of our bodies, including the skin, organs, tissues such as bone marrow, the thymus, white blood cells, lymphatic system, intestine and lymph nodes. The role of the immune system is to fight off infections and enable immune responses.
Babies are born with an immature immune system. Good nutrition in the early years of life may influence the development of the immune system and also have an impact on a child’s risk of allergy in later life. Here we share advice on how your baby’s nutrition can support their immune system and help stave off common childhood illnesses.
Breastfeed where possible
Breastfeeding provides many benefits to mother and baby, including immunological protections against viruses and infections. When possible, it is recommended to breastfed exclusively for six months and for as long as both mother and baby want to continue.
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 age-appropriate solids such as puree, for their first foods. 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 deficiencies, known as anaemia, can affect the immune response, leading to an increase in infections in children.
Thankfully, there’s a wide array of iron-rich foods to choose from, including beef and lamb, fortified breakfast cereals, kale and spinach, and cooked legumes (dried peas, beans or lentils).
Zinc is a mineral found in all cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system to fight off invading bacteria and viruses by creating new cells and enzymes. Your child’s daily zinc requirements can be found in 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, which is your child´s first line of defence against infections.
The best source of vitamin D is through the exposure of sunlight on the skin however, this can be difficult with young babies. 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 and building 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 provide your child with the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are essential to support a well-functioning immune system. Careful meal planning and healthy snacks ensure that you’ll be able to provide your child with the most balanced diet possible.
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