Defense First!: Understanding Your Baby’s Immune System

Immunity is the ability of a person’s body to fight infections and diseases. The body’s immune system controls it. Your immune system comprises cells, tissues, and organs that work together to fight off infections and diseases.

The baby’s immune system at birth and beyond.

Most people think of the immune system exclusively as the body’s defence against disease, but it plays several roles in helping your child grow up strong. For example, it helps keep their skin clear, helps them fight off infections, and helps teach their bodies to fight off future threats that might cause illness or disease later on. It does all this by producing proteins called antibodies that identify invaders such as viruses or bacteria. The antibodies then attack these invaders so they can’t cause harm to your child’s body.

Every baby is born after being exposed to microbes through the placenta during pregnancy. Therefore, they are born fortified with the necessary antibodies required to defend the baby against harmful microbes. However, these antibodies are only temporary since they aren’t produced at a high enough level to protect against all infections. Babies will gradually develop antibodies as they grow as they will inevitably be exposed to these microbes down the road. (Which happens until around they are 5 years old).

In the first year of their life, most babies’ immune systems grow and develop, but it’s still important to protect them from germs and disease.

Your baby’s immune system is still growing and developing, so it’s not fully prepared to fight off illness. This can make it hard for your baby to even recover from certain common illnesses.

  • Your baby’s immune system is still a working progress, learning how to fight off germs and diseases.
  • There are many different kinds of germs (bacteria, viruses, fungi), which need a lot of different sorts of protection from the immune system.
  • Some germs are harmful to babies because they’re too strong for their young immune systems to fight off on their own (like chickenpox). Other germs don’t cause disease in adults but can be severe in newborns because their bodies haven’t had time to build defences against them (like herpes).

Your Baby’s Susceptibility to Diseases and Common Infant Sicknesses

Your baby’s immune system remains underdeveloped until the age of 3 months. Your baby will be susceptible to various diseases and common infant sicknesses in the first year of life. Examples of these illnesses include:

  • Colds and flu are transmitted through contact with others who are infected or by touching contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs, toys, and other personal items. Contact your pediatrician immediately for treatment guidance, even if the symptoms seem mild.
  • Ear infections (otitis media) result from bacteria entering the middle ear through a hole in one or both eardrums. Ear infections can cause pain, fever, fussiness, and a refusal to eat or drink liquids due to discomfort from sucking/swallowing them.

Your Baby’s Vulnerability to Viruses

As a new parent, you’ve probably heard the news: your baby is more vulnerable to viruses than adults. While this may make you worry, you can take steps to reduce your baby’s risk of infection. The most common viruses that affect babies include:

  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, fever, and sore throat. It causes bronchiolitis, a condition where the small airways in the lungs swell, block airflow and fill with mucus. It also causes pneumonia.
  • Rhinovirus (commonly called “the common cold”) causes similar symptoms as RSV. Still, it is less severe than other viral infections because it doesn’t stay in the body for long periods as some other viruses do.
  • Influenza A or B virus (flu). Flu usually comes with fever, coughs, or chills that can last up to seven days after initial exposure. However, some cases can cause febrile seizures—an unexpected seizure triggered by high fevers caused by certain illnesses, including flu or chickenpox— which may result in brain damage if not treated immediately following diagnosis.
  • Babies are particularly vulnerable to gastrointestinal viruses. If left untreated, they can cause severe dehydration, diarrhea, and complications such as liver damage, meningitis, encephalitis, and heart inflammation.

Boosting Your Baby’s Immunity

  • Breast milk is the best food for your baby’s immune system. It contains antibodies, which help fight against illness.
  • If you are breastfeeding, try to avoid introducing solid foods until your child is at least 6 months old. After that, they can be introduced one at a time and in small amounts to protect their digestive system.
  • Your child should get all of their vaccinations on schedule and any recommended boosters if needed (check with your doctor).
  • Ensure that there are no unnecessary chemicals in their environment or food (for example, pesticides on fruit/vegetables), and keep them away from other children who may have contagious illnesses like chickenpox or measles.
  • When you introduce new foods into your baby’s diet (once they’re ready), make sure it’s organic because conventionally grown produce has been shown to have higher levels of pesticides than its organic counterparts.

Breast milk contains many immune-boosting factors.

Breast milk contains many immune-boosting factors that work together to protect your baby from illness. Breast milk contains antibodies, white blood cells, and other immune-boosting factors that help fight off viruses and bacteria. It’s also an ideal source of nutrition for your baby. Studies show that breastfed babies have lower rates of diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, and other infections than formula-fed babies in the first year after birth.

In addition to protecting against infectious diseases such as ear infections, diarrhea, and respiratory infections during infancy and childhood, breastfeeding also protects against leukemia later in life.

Vaccination is the safest way in which to protect your child from significant diseases.

Vaccination is the safest way to protect your child from serious diseases. Vaccination protects against many serious diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and polio. Read more about vaccination safety and stay updated on what your baby needs.

Vaccines do not cause autism. The original study that claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism has since been discredited as fraudulent by every other independent scientific group that has examined it — but the myth persists in some circles.

Proper diet and dietary practices boost immunity.

As your baby grows, you may start to notice that they’re getting sick more often. This is normal, but it can be frustrating as a parent. You want to do everything you can to keep your baby healthy!

Breastfeeding is the best way to ensure your baby has the nutrients he needs to fight off illness. As mentioned before, breast milk contains many immune-boosting factors, including stem cells and antibodies that help build a healthy immune system.

After the breastfeeding phase, the main factor that can help boost your baby’s immune system is a healthy diet. A balanced diet is one full of fruit and vegetables that will help give your baby all the nutrients they need to fight off infections and stay healthy. Incorporate the following food into your baby’s diet:

  • Iron-rich foods like meat, fish, or eggs (or iron-fortified cereals)
  • Zinc-rich foods like beef, eggs, and cheese (or cereals fortified with zinc)
  • Vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits (or juices containing vitamin C)

Another thing that can help boost immunity is probiotics. Probiotics are bacteria that live in the gut and help with digestion. When babies have antibiotics, they can kill some of these beneficial bacteria. Probiotics can help replace some of these good bacteria so that your baby’s immune system stays strong. However, there are certain things to keep in mind when using probiotics. They should only be given as directed by a doctor; they can cause allergic reactions, and they aren’t recommended for children under two years old or pregnant women without talking to their doctor first.

You don’t always need supplementation

Most babies do not need supplementation, even if you are not breastfeeding or if your baby is premature. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. After that, they can receive up to 1 litre/day (about 4 cups) of safe complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed.

If your baby has certain medical conditions and needs supplementation, talk with your doctor about how much extra nutrition she will need to help her grow and develop properly. If you have concerns about whether or not to supplement your baby’s diet with formula or other food products, talk with your healthcare provider before giving them any supplements at all—even vitamin drops!

Concluding note: Although immunity starts before birth, you can help protect your baby by breastfeeding, vaccinating, and maintaining a healthy diet. 

  • Breastfeed. A baby’s immune system is still developing when they’re born, and breastfeeding provides them with antibodies that help to protect them against infections. This immunity is passed on through breast milk, so the more you breastfeed, the better your baby’s protection will be.
  • Vaccinate your child. Starting at 2 months of age, make sure you take your child for all recommended vaccinations to protect them from diseases. Make sure you have their immunization records handy if you need to call an ambulance or go to an emergency room.
  • Feed a healthy diet for strong immunity.