Flu season is upon us, and for working moms, that means doing everything possible to keep our kids healthy at school and at home. With predictions that this year's flu season will be especially bad, it's more important now than ever to start implementing strategies that will help boost your kids' immune systems. Annually, there are about 20 million reported cases of the flu, with 80 percent of the outbreaks occurring between the months of November and April, said Rachael Buck, Ph.D., a lead research scientist and resident gut health expert at Abbott Nutrition.
So what can you do? Dr. Buck believes that a healthy gut is key to a healthy immune system. The stronger a child's immune system, the better they're able to fight off the flu.
"The immune system can act as a child’s defense system to respond to viruses and infections or illnesses. Without a healthy microbiome, children’s immune systems can be weaker, exposing them to a greater risk of illness," Abbott's Dr. Buck explained.
"The gut contains the highest concentration and greatest diversity of microbes in the entire body. These microbes come from everything people come in contact with from birth throughout their lifespan. Microbes help build a strong immune system—the more they are exposed to, the more variety they have in their microbiome, and the stronger the immune system," she said.
Dr. Buck's best tips for gut health include providing your child skin-to-skin contact from the moment they're born, introducing a variety of fruits and vegetables into their diet during their early years and allowing your child to play outside. These strategies expose your child to the microbes they need, provide them with necessary prebiotics and diversify the bacteria in their stomach.
Not surprisingly, over-protecting your kids from germs and microbes is not always helpful.
"Research has shown that children may actually benefit from exposure to germs, offering greater protection from illness, allergies or other autoimmune diseases," said Dr. Buck. "Proper hydration and nutrition are so important during this time as well—drink a lot of water, and make sure your family is eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt—these all aid in keeping the microbiome healthy and strong."
In addition to her expert advice, we've gathered some simple tips and hacks that real, everyday working moms swear help prevent their kids from getting sick.
1. "Body-Talking Time"
"We have ‘body talking time’ every night which he absolutely loves—I tell him one new thing about the body or we watch a kid's anatomy video. He is really proud of knowing what the body does and how to look after it, which actually makes it easier to encourage healthy choices which in turn lead to a healthier immune system." —Elesa Zehndorfer
2. Adequate Sleep
"SLEEP! I protect their sleep like a mama bear. They might complain but it's so worth it." —Jacqueline Fisch
"Probiotics daily, along with a fruit/vegetable supplement (instead of a vitamin)." —Janis Isaman
4. Skipping Sharing
"Give them daily reminders to not share drinks or food with their friends." —Keri Drake
5. Coconut Oil
"When I hear moms discussing kids battling a sickness or I hear a sniffle, I immediately give my kids a tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil before bed. It kills bacteria and my kids are usually fine by the morning." —Zaida Khaze
6. A Secret Formula
"I rub oil made of clove, cinnamon, lemon, rosemary and eucalyptus on the bottom of my family's feet, day and night for immune support. Consistency is the key. If I hear a sniffle, I’ll even roll some of the oil along my daughter’s spine." —Angela Roeber
7. Plenty of dirt
"I let my babies be babies. They've had their share of dirt. I believe it builds the immune system." —Kristen Wright-Matthews.
8. And Plenty of Showers
"In my house, we increase showers from one to two a day, as I find this helps drain any running noses, relieve congestion and help with sore throats." —Jennifer Holland.