supporting the immune system of your young child

The Development of a Child's Immune System

When a baby is born, its immune system is immature.

The mother shares her antibodies with the baby in the last trimester of pregnancy, which helps to protect the baby in the initial weeks. However, these antibodies fade away and disappear after the first few months.

Your child’s immune system is immature during infancy because it has yet to encounter many germs. During this time, young children are particularly susceptible to respiratory tract and gastrointestinal infections. As they are exposed to different bugs over time, their adaptive immunity develops, and they gradually build up immunity and get fewer infections. By the early teenage years, the immune system is almost fully developed.

Preschool-Aged Children and Infections

The average preschool child has 6-8 colds per year, and often more for children attending childcare facilities. It’s also very common for kids to get secondary ear infections after a respiratory tract infection.  

Other common childhood illnesses include gastroenteritis, hand, foot, and mouth disease, whooping cough, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), conjunctivitis, and molluscum contagiosum virus. Just to name a few! 

It can be challenging for both the child and the parents or caregiver when the child falls ill frequently, barely recovering from one illness before catching another. This can also lead to the spread of infections among siblings and other family members. Supporting your child’s immune system can potentially help them fight off these infections.

Tips for Building a Healthy Immune System

Ensure a varied and balanced whole-food diet:

When it comes to choosing the right food and nutrition for your child, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the specifics and trying to find the ideal healthy option. However, rather than getting caught up in all the details, aim for a diet that is rich in fresh and unprocessed foods from all the food groups. 

Offering a great variety of food options is key, even if they only have small amounts. This will help broaden their palate and ensure they get all the nutrients they need for growth, development, and immune function. Remember, building new eating habits takes time, so be patient and take it one step at a time.

Top Tips:

  • Offer a rainbow of different vegetables and fruits.
  • Focus on quality meats and seafood, such as chicken, beef, lamb, and salmon.
  • Opt for sugar-free dairy sources, such as yoghurts and milk.
  • Offer a variety of wholegrains, including quinoa, brown rice, rye, spelt and oats.
  • Get them involved. It doesn’t have to be every meal, but they will be more likely to try something new if they’ve helped prepare it.

Outdoor Playtime

Playing outside can be beneficial for a child’s immune system, especially when it involves messy play in the dirt. This type of play allows your child’s skin to come into contact with good bacteria, which can help to strengthen their immunity.

Additionally, playing outside exposes your child to healthy levels of vitamin D, which also supports immune development and function.

Practice good hand-washing hygiene

Young children often touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without washing their hands, which is the most common way germs are spread. Practicing good hand hygiene can help reduce the incidence and severity of infections. It is essential to involve children in the process from an early age and make it enjoyable.

For instance, you can make handwashing fun by challenging them to create as many bubbles as possible with soap.

Specific Nutrients for Immune Health


Children have a higher demand for zinc compared to adults, especially during growth spurts. Zinc helps to support growth and development, immune function and response, gut health, mood, and behaviour.


Maintaining a balance between good and bad bacteria in our children’s gut is essential for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, which in turn supports immune function. Probiotics can help achieve this balance in the digestive tract and promote healthy immune function. Studies have shown that supplementing with probiotics can also enhance immune response against infections, particularly those affecting the upper respiratory tract.


Iron is essential in the early years; it is involved with brain development and tissue growth and is required for optimal immune responses and function. Low iron stores impact the innate immune system’s white blood cells, which are the first line of defense against invading viral or bacterial pathogens.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps to regulate the immune system and immune responses to an infection. Research has also highlighted that vitamin D supplementation can reduce the rate of infections in children.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the growth and development of a child’s brain and nervous system. They also play a crucial role in regulating the immune system and enhancing its response to infections. Consuming omega-3 fatty acids in adequate amounts can help activate immune cells, thus supporting the overall immune function.

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