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With winter just around the corner, sniffles will become prevalent. So, what can you do to protect your child from the array of germs floating around?

Stop the chance of sniffles by boosting their  immune system

For babies, the first line of defence against a viral or bacterial infection is breastfeeding, says Joburg-based paediatrician, Dr Dewald Buitendag. “At birth, a baby’s immune system is still immature. Luckily nature compensates for this by letting mothers transfer their immunity onto their babies. This happens when maternal antibodies cross the placenta during pregnancy, as well as when protective immunoglobulins pass through breast milk during feeding,” he says. These antibodies only last for a few months and then run low, but the good news is, from six months of age, children start to produce their own antibodies.

“To kick-start this process we immunise babies against the most common childhood illnesses,” adds Buitendag. Once your child starts school, it’s essential to keep routine vaccinations up to date and to consider an annual flu vaccination, says Cape Town-based doctor Blaise Witney. This gives the immune system the “blueprint” to be prepared to fight off common viral and bacterial infections.

Find more tips on how to beat the sniffles.

Eat healthily to prevent the sniffles

When it comes to warding off infections, a healthy diet is essential, says Joburg-based dietician, Abby Courtenay. A good balance of macro- (carbs, protein and fat) and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are a must for meals. Focus on lean protein, good-quality dairy, wholegrains, plant fats, plus fruits and vegetables in their most natural form. Treats like ice-cream, sweets and chocolate should be limited since sugar places a huge amount of stress on a developing immune system, adds Cape-Town based healthy and wellness consultant Hannah Kaye. The aim is to encourage your child to eat more vegetables and to incorporate them into at least two meals a day, she says.

Consider a multivitamin and mineral supplement

While you might question whether it’s necessary to spend money on vitamins and supplements, Kaye believes the answer depends on the child. “If you have a fussy eater who doesn’t like fruits and vegetables, then it’s worth investing in a multivitamin and mineral supplement, plus a good probiotic as it contains beneficial flora, which regulate immunity. A cod-liver oil supplement is also important as it not only contains anti-inflammatory fish oils, but also vitamins A and D, which are essential for immunity. “A daily zinc supplement also goes a long way in combatting colds and flu,” she adds.

Exercise and sufficient sleep help keep the sniffles at bay

Studies have shown that sleep helps to regulate immune function. On the contrary, lack of sleep can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation and immunodeficiency (a sluggish immune response), both of which have a detrimental impact on health, says Kaye. Children need at least 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night to build a robust immune system, adds Witney. Stress can also weaken the immune system. To combat this, Kaye recommends that you let your child play outside, have fun and move as much as possible, rather than have them sit indoors in front of an iPad or computer.

Watch out for winter

Cold and flu viruses survive better in colder, drier climates than in warmer, humid conditions, says  Buitendag. Also, during winter people tend to spend more time indoors with the windows closed. This makes it easier for a virus to spread from one person to another. To help your child stay healthy, don’t spend too long in poorly ventilated areas, such as shopping malls, wash their hands regularly, use blankets and warm clothes rather than heaters and avoid contact with anyone who is presenting with the sniffles or coughing.

Immune-boosting lunchbox ideas

  • Sliced strawberries with a pumpkin seed yoghurt dip
  • Tuna salad (with broccoli florets and peppers) with cottage cheese dressing
  • Crustless quiche (egg muffins) made with spinach
  • Roast beef or baked beans with hummus on wholegrain toast

Courtesy of Abby Courtenay, dietician