Ah yes, as a new mom I’ve discovered kids get sick all the time… and I mean ALL the time! Even my healthy, real-food-eating, raw-milk-drinking, superfood-smoothie-loving toddler has had his fair share of fevers, snotty noses, coughs, colds, infections etc etc! BUT, as it turns out this is actually a good thing! Crazy right!? Allow me to explain…
Children are in fact designed to get sick regularly. Getting sick is the healthiest thing a growing immune system can do because this is how it learns to identify pathogenic threats as well as how to fight them. The human immune system is truly remarkable in that the more opportunity it has to grow and develop (when we get sick), especially in the early years, the stronger and more efficient it will be in the later years.
Let them eat dirt
I’ve also learnt that kids tend to put EVERYTHING in their mouths! Again this is a good thing. In fact it’s part of a deliberate system designed to get as much bacteria into their little bodies as possible. According to Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, and author of the book, “Why Dirt Is Good” (Kaplan): “What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment. Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”
Therefore, wash in moderation
The current obsession to ‘clean’ our children’s environment with antibacterial everything and ‘treat’ them with antibiotics the moment they even sneeze, has gone too far. Yes, these products are useful when used appropriately, however, their over-use and abuse has done nothing other than offer a false sense of security and potentially even fostered the development of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria. Another reason to avoid antibiotics unless absolutely essential, is the fact that they (in the long-run) teach our immune systems absolutely nothing about how to fight infection! Along with the harmful bacteria, antibiotics will wipe out our stores of beneficial gut flora as well – which are, of course, supposed to be our first line of immune defence in the first place! See the vicious cycle!?
We simply cannot escape the fact that bacteria are everywhere; in and all around us. Most are completely harmless, lots are beneficial and some even essential for good health. Bottom line: RELAX! Let your kids taste dirt (in moderation of course!!!), leave them barefoot, wash them with simple soap and water and let them play with animals.
So how much sickness is normal?
In the first year of life, you can expect your child to get sick around 8-12 times! It isn’t much better in the second year, when children get sick an average of 6-8 times. However, these illnesses generally aren’t serious, just the usual colds, tummy bugs and flu-like illnesses. It is also important to note that children are NOT all the same, some just simply get sick more often than others. Also, typically the more children your child is around the more likely he is to get sick (ever heard of day-care syndrome!?).
Ok, so what’s the good news!?
The good news is that an immune system doesn’t forget! It has a memory. Once it has identified and fought a germ, it remembers it and can mount a much larger response the next time the germ visits, often killing it before it can take root and cause illness. This is called “acquired immunity.” To give you an example, if you get chicken pox as a child, you [generally] won’t also get it as an adult because you have acquired immunity to it. So while it’s never fun to have a sick child, you can at least be encouraged by the fact that they are strengthening their defences and will be able to protect themselves from that virus or bacteria in the future.
Also, there is strong evidence that having some natural childhood illnesses like measles and mumps protects from diseases later in life, including cancer. Therefore, well-managed natural infectious diseases are beneficial for children.
So how can I well-manage my sick child?
So to answer the question…
Kids get sick so often because they’re supposed to get sick so often! AND… this is a good thing because their immune systems are learning and developing, meaning they’ll be stronger and healthier and less likely to get sick as they grow up. So if your child is home sick again take a deep breath and remember it’s OK.
Steph Wills – Lifestyle Health