Fall brings a host of changes—kids head back to school, the leaves turn and the weather cools down. This transitional time can leave children more susceptible to illness. We consulted with natural health experts for some easy ways that parents can support their kids' immune systems and hopefully avoid pesky colds and other illnesses. Here's the lowdown:
Avoid getting cold. Lauren Feder, MD, author of Natural Baby and Childcare (Hatherleigh, 2006), advises to avoid swimming during changing fall weather and to add an extra layer of light clothing to ensure children stay warm during abrupt weather changes. She also says a hot water bottle in bed at night is a great way to warm up quickly.
Offer high-vitamin foods. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as grapefruit, lemons, limes, bell peppers, broccoli and goji berries, are effective in helping to boost immunity, says licensed acupuncturist and nationally certified herbalist Lexi Hagenson. "So in terms of meals and snacks, I would encourage parents to offer their children foods like veggie pizza, trail mix and yogurt parfaits."
Adequate sleep. With the excitement and stress of returning to school, experts agree that not just adequate, but even some extra, sleep can go a long way in boosting immunity, and mood. Feder cautions to ensure adequate sleep during the busy holiday season as well, when we are susceptible to illness such as the flu.
Minimize sugar. Sugar can depress the immune system, says Hagenson. "Avoid giving children packaged sugary foods and drinks as much as possible," she says. Offer vitamin-rich fruits as treats instead.
Eat moisturizing foods. Our bodies can have a difficult time adapting to weather changes, such as dryness, that accompany a new season, making us more susceptible to illness, according to Hagenson. She suggests serving kids nuts, seeds, pears, honey and organic yogurt, which she says are all great at moistening the body internally to protect it against the dry fall environment.
Go for gut health. Probiotics are also an excellent way to boost the immune system by increasing healthy gut bacteria, which can then properly fight off bad bacteria and germs. "Kefir smoothies are a nice way to give your child probiotics," Hagenson suggests. "Just blend plain kefir with a mix of fresh or frozen fruit and a touch of honey or maple syrup as necessary."
Keep the ears clean. The ears may also be an entry point for illness-causing bacteria, so keeping them clean may prevent illness especially in preschool-age kids, according to Dr. Feder. "At bath time simply put a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in each ear. The solution will bubble and there may be a little stinging. Within a couple minutes, the liquid will drain out."
Essential oils. When added to a bath, a couple of drops of eucalyptus or cinnamon essential oil really help to open the sinuses, Hagenson says. Lavender or chamomile can be calming. Try and keep the bathroom as steamy as possible when using the oils.