When your child is sick it can be difficult, especially during the holiday season. In this cold and flu Q&A session, our Gugu Village Parents were able to ask Dr. Sara DuMond, MD, questions regarding illness, keeping germs at bay and keeping children’s immune systems in tip-top shape while traveling. Dr. DuMond is a member of Dr. Brown’s Baby Medical Expert Panel and a mom of three. Needless to say, she is an expert at keeping kids well and getting them feeling better when they are ill.
Cold and Flu Q&A 1: What are the best practices for keeping my baby and toddler healthy this cold and flu season?
As we approach the time of year when we experience an uptick in the number of cold and flu viruses that circulate in our communities, parents often rightfully ask if there are things they can be doing to keep their children healthy. Aside from a flu shot (which doesn’t always prevent the flu, but thankfully does an excellent job of preventing the serious and often life-threatening complications from influenza), simplicity reigns!
Teaching kids to use good handwashing technique (soap and warm water for about 20-30 seconds, or the amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song) can go a long way towards keeping kids healthy. Also, things like encouraging some form of physical activity every day, enforcing consistent bedtimes, and encouraging daily fruits and vegetables in our children’s diets, prime their immune system to be in the best shape to fight off germs.
Cold and Flu Q&A 2: What’s the best way to get my whole family’s immune systems as strong as possible in a preventative way? I have a 2.5 year old and I’m super nervous about bringing our newborn home in the beginning of the month! I’m both worried about him staying healthy, and also keeping my toddler as healthy as possible because I am terrified about taking care of him and our newborn. Also, my husband tends to get whatever the toddler gets and that’s no fun either! Any tips on prevention would be super appreciated especially for stomach viruses!
We should all be approaching our family’s health from a preventative stance! Bringing a new baby home at any time can be a stressful situation, but especially when it’s during cold and flu season and there are older siblings (i.e. cute little petri dishes) at home! From a holistic standpoint, the entire family can focus on eating whole foods, avoiding processed pre-packed snacks, and always having a ready-supply of seasonally available fruits and vegetables. A general rule of thumb is that vitamins are much more readily available to the body when eating in whole food form, as opposed to taking supplements. Smoothies are a quick and easy way to get fruits and vegetables in everyone’s diet – mom and dad and kids! The dreaded stomach virus is one that no one wants to battle, and good gut immunity starts with diet. Newborns benefit from healthy immune germ-fighting cells from mom for the first 6 months of life, and breastfeeding boosts that immunity as well.
Cold and Flu Q&A 3: Dr. DuMond, should my three children (in three different schools/daycares) be taking vitamins or supplements? How can I prevent germs from spreading at home?
The #1 question I get asked about is whether or not kids should be taking vitamins and whether there are any natural supplements that are safe and effective for kids that will keep them healthy during cold and flu season. While parents may often hear anecdotal stories about magic-bullet products that have worked well for their friends or family members, there is really no evidence to support any one product or supplement.
The best all-natural prevention starts with the most all-natural approaches, of a healthy family diet heavily weighted with organic fruits and vegetables, prioritizing consolidated 10-12 hours of sleep a night for toddlers and preschoolers, and daily active play.
Another good tip is frequent reminders for toddlers and preschoolers to avoid touching their face, nose, and mouth throughout the day. Germs enter our bodies when we touch a surface that someone has coughed or sneezed on and then touch our own noses, mouths, or eyes. Taking this common-sense approach isn’t a guarantee that siblings won’t share germs and colds, but it sets families up for bouncing back much more quickly!
Cold and Flu Q&A 4: My baby is too young for the flu vaccine and we plan to travel on a very long flight for the holidays, what do you suggest doing to help our baby’s immune system?
Babies under 6 months are too little to get a flu vaccine, so it’s essential that others around them get theirs, to surround them with the highest level of protection possible. Travel during holiday times can be stressful and definitely places little ones at increased risk for exposure to cold and flu viruses. Shy of setting a family policy of no travel during a baby’s first cold and flu season (which many of my families choose to do!), there are some tips for navigating air travel this time of year. Pack plenty of individual travel-sized hand sanitizers and keep infants in an infant carrier or sling to minimize well-meaning travelers who are tempted to touch the baby. For older toddlers and children, encourage hydration during the travel day with water in sippy cups and other vessels that travel well, avoid food courts and opt instead for healthier options like bananas (which have their own build-in natural “packaging”) and individual packages of nut butters. For travel across time zones, allow, at minimum, one full day upon arrival to your destination, where you do not have lots of scheduled activities, so that body clocks can re-adjust, naps can be worked in, and little bodies aren’t pushed beyond commonsense limits.
Cold and Flu Q&A 5: What advice do you have for when my baby DOES start to come down with something? Is there anything I can do to lessen symptoms?
For infants who are breastfeeding, continue breastfeeding! (This advice applies even if mom comes down with sickness herself!) Watch for any evidence of fever (rectal temperatures are the only reliable way to check a baby’s temperature), changes in feeding pattern, or changes in color. Those symptoms would always warrant a call to the pediatrician’s office. If it seems like baby is struggling with the sniffles, but is otherwise well, invest in a cool-mist humidifier and run that in the room where baby sleeps. Infant nasal saline drops or sprays that come over the counter will help thin the mucous and make it easier to suction out of their noses.
Remember, cold and flu viruses enter the body most often times through the nose, so frequent nasal suctioning, while sometimes stressful because of protests and tears from little ones, can be key to preventing a simple cold from progressing into something more serious. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are not recommended for babies.
We would like to thank Dr. DuMond for these amazing tips! We hope you are able to implement these suggestions and enjoy a healthy Holiday season.