About Infant Immune Systems
Perhaps our strongest instinct as parents is the need to protect our children—to shield them from harm, pain and illness. These days, we’re all thinking about our health and well-being more often than ever and how we can avoid putting ourselves and our kids at risk for disease.
In this post, we’ll discuss how infant immune systems work; what illnesses babies are most likely to get and how to boost an infant immune system. We’ll also share how the Western Washington Medical Group Family Practice can assist you further with your baby’s health.
Starting with the basics, everyone is born with an immune system of proteins and cells, which exist to prevent illness by defending the body from infection. When something like a virus is introduced to the body, the white blood cells respond by producing antibodies to fight it, and store that ‘data’ for future defenses.
Babies are born with immature immune systems that develop as they age and become exposed to germs. Antibodies that protect newborns were passed to them through their mother’s placenta during the last three months of her pregnancy. They also receive bacteria during birth, which helps build immunity-boosting bacteria in the gut.
As they continue to grow as infants, they receive additional antibodies through the breast milk of their mother and the germs that they are exposed to in the atmosphere. It takes time to develop their immune system, and even longer if they were born prematurely.
What illnesses and conditions are infants most susceptible to contracting?
There are a few ailments that new parents should watch for, which are very common in babies:
- Ear Infections. When your baby begins tugging at their ears, crying excessively and resisting when you attempt to lay them down flat on their backs, they may have an ear infection. This is caused by a fluid accumulation in the ear that causes great pain because it presses against the eardrum. A quick visit to the doctor for antibiotics should bring the infection to an end.
- Babies who are fed, changed, comforted and still cry constantly may be suffering from this condition, which is likely caused by the regurgitation of stomach acids back into the esophagus. A doctor can prescribe the best treatment, which may be more frequent feedings with smaller portions or a change in formula if the child isn’t breast fed. In some cases, medicine may be prescribed.
- Cold or Flu. It’s very common for babies in their first year of life to endure a cold and/or flu, which leaves them with all of the same symptoms that adults get. They may sneeze, cough, have a runny nose or fever. Before giving cold medicine to your infant, be sure to consult a pediatrician.
- Diarrhea or Constipation. Irregular bowel movements and loose stools are normal as infants are experiencing different foods for the first time. Issues can also occur if an allergy is present, as a reaction to certain medication or from a bacterial infection. Most can be treated with dietary changes and hydration, but if a bloody stool is present, a doctor should be consulted, as it could be a sign of something more serious.
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). This virus, which often begins with cold-like symptoms, infects the lungs and breathing passages and can develop into pneumonia. Babies under 6 months of age are often hospitalized if they contract this virus.
How to Protect and Boost Infant Immune Systems
If you’re able to breast feed your child, breast milk is an excellent immunity builder. It’s especially effective fighting gastrointestinal infections because it goes straight into the baby’s stomach when ingested. In addition, the lactoferrin and interleukin -6, -8, 10 proteins in breast milk help balance the inflammatory response of the immune system.
Another way to help boost your child’s immune system is to limit contact with those outside your family for the first few months of their life. If you welcome visitors, ensure that they are healthy and have their hands washed before holding or caring for your baby.
Perhaps the most direct way to protect your child from illness is to get them vaccinated. The Whooping Cough vaccine is especially important because this can be life threatening for infants under 6 months of age, but there are several vaccines in the first year of life that every baby should get. Consult your doctor to see what they recommend.
Once your baby begins to eat solid foods, you’ll also want to pay close attention to their nutrition. By avoiding ‘junk’ foods and incorporating fresh vegetables and fruits into their diet, you’ll be giving their immune system a natural boost through the vitamins contained naturally within them.
Talk to a Medical Professional
If you’d like to consult with a doctor about how to keep your baby’s immune system strong, contact WWMG Family Practice to schedule an appointment. For more general inquiries, use the form on this page.