It seems to be that time of year. Colds, flus, they are all making the rounds. When I speak of daycare illness, I mean the illness your child seems to get from another child at daycare, or maybe gives to others at daycare. The dreaded, never-ending daycare cough.
The illness that starts out as a few days home sick, and then, because you need to go back to work, becomes a mild cough if your mind, one you feel okay to send your child back to daycare with … and then, becomes a cough which you never seem to shake, because it just keeps getting passed around, and the kids barely get better before they catch it another time.
The Daycare Cough, in the era of COVID-19, holds the potential to completely derail one’s ability to work, since now more than ever, if your child gets sick with even the mildest of symptoms, you need to isolate them at home, and you need to get them tested, and you probably have to take two weeks off work yourself to do so. Ain’t no messin around now!
Breaking the Cycle of Daycare Illness
If there is one thing we know for sure about day care, it is that it is crawling in germs of great density and diversity. And, they are often a source of less than ideal snack foods, unfortunately.
For many, the benefit of day care comes at the expense of abiding a runny nose or frequent rounds of antibiotics for kids and possibly their siblings or their parents.
Parents are often desperate for a solution to the revolving door relationship between their child and the team of germs they meet at the childcare centre on a daily basis. The perpetual challenge for most parents is not keeping their child free of infection, but keeping them free of repetitive, unrelenting illnesses that pass through the family over and over again.
Some of this is up to the childcare providers. Parents should ask when registering their children about the knowledge that staff have about food safety and food preparation hygiene, which in Canada falls under FoodSafe guidelines. These practices and their adherence to good personal hygiene practices themselves and making sure the children follow them as well, make all the difference.
Children’s immune systems are in a maximal state of development in the pre-school years, carefully studying each microbial introduction and gaining strength with each round of exposure. Despite this heightened training regime, the immature immune system of a preschooler generally lacks the capacity to fight infection with the same degree of efficiency as an adult.
The solution should then is not to sterilize the field, but to insist on proper basic cleaning and good food preparation and hand washing. In fact, the hygiene hypothesis states that this is likely NOT good for children’s health and our immune system outcomes as a society to disinfect, but handwashing is one of the greatest advances of the modern age. It’s all about balance
Supporting a child’s immune system requires equal emphasis on removing those things that tend to weaken immune defenses while simultaneously tonifying, not just the child’s, but the entire family’s immune health, with things like walks outside and playing with animals.
Keeping both your own as well as your child’s immune system in prime condition requires some vigilance when it comes to their food. Sugar and food colourings have both been shown to decrease the overall immune functionality in children. (Additionally, they are associated with poor attention, focus, and learning and other ADHD-type traits).
Whole foods *without added sugar* are imperative to preventing a subtle decline in immune defense and vital to protecting your child at school. Natural sugars such as fructose (found in fruit) or raw honey are certainly better choices, but I generally advise they be avoided in children when you suspect they are on the brink of or in the thick of an infection.
Processed foods, especially ones high in glucose and corn syrups are especially problematic to the immune system. Establishing the source and type of sugars can require heightened diligence when it comes reading labels and busy parents. As a general rule, if the food is white, unnaturally coloured, says “low fat”, is made of flour or highly processed, it is high in sugar.
If you can’t start to remove it as part of an overall lifestyle choice, consider a more naturally colourful whole food option when you suspect your little person is coming down with an infection.
Antibiotic Support Team
We have witnessed the pattern; a child gets sick, they require antibiotics, they get well, they go back to school, they get sick, they require antibiotics, they get well, they go back to school… The cycle can often feel like it is endless, and it is so sad, because all the work their immune system is doing to build its repertoire of known germs is being decimated by medicine.
Antibiotics have their time and place. They are an important feature of Western medicine and critical with highly progressive infections, for deep dental work, and in many other cases can be very helpful. The problem with antibiotics however is that while they may deter the current infection, their depletion of healthy microorganisms within the digestive system leaves the immune system vulnerable to the next attack and can even set up a worse situation going forward.
If antibiotics are indeed necessary, which means that the infection is not caused by a virus, supplementing with a probiotic supplement and healthy whole foods following the prescription course is critical to interrupting the cycle. Probiotics are formulated for kids and adults and is important that you select one with multiple strains for the correct age grouping.
Yogurt is also an excellent source of health probiotics, but the probiotics available in yogurt are not available in sufficient concentrations to adequately replete the digestive system on their own. Consider yogurt as an adjunctive therapy, but consider supplementing, for at least one month following your child (or your) next round of anti-biotics.
And, if the illness is not something caused by a bacteria, but is viral in nature, well, it may beneficial to have a probiotic on hand anyway. There are some signs that immune systems might respond more appropriately and assertively when there is diverse bacteria in the gut.
Dietary Suggestions for Immune Health
Stimulating the immune system in the face of an impending infection is a good idea for most and easily accomplished without the need for supplementation. Beside a good solid night’s sleep, with no screens before bed, these are my favourite infection fighting immune supportive options for kids.
Oranges – These yummy, kid-friendly fruits provide a healthy dose of vitamin C. Juice your own or feed kids the orange directly, letting them pick their favourite kinds. Bonus if they eat some of the pith as well. Orange juice is just a little too high in sugar when your little person is on the verge of a cold, otherwise I often get the kind with vitamin D added.
Garlic – Although this can be a challenge for many kids, they usually love it if introduced early. Consider roasting some cloves or adding raw garlic to potatoes or homemade hummus. When he is sick, my son will even take a mixture of honey-sweetened apple cider vinegar that has garlic and ginger soaked in it.
Lentils – Lentils are high in the immune supporting mineral called zinc. Add the lentils to soup or cook them in your rice/quinoa to make them a little more palatable for kids. Better yet, while they are home sick, engage them in a project and sprout some lentils at home in a jar. It is easy, fun, fast and improves the nutrition and digestibility.
Avocado – ½ of an avocado meets your daily requirement for vitamin E, an important contributor to a steady immune system. If your kids won’t eat avocado, consider mixing an avocado with 1/3C organic cocoa powder and 1 tbsp of raw honey. Mix together in a food processor or blender – you now have chocolate pudding… I promise, they’ll eat it.
Ginger – Ginger is an important anti-microbial and one of my all-time favourite plant medicines and foods. Chop a small amount of ginger and make a tea by pouring boiling water over and letting it steep. Allow it to cool before serving to kids. You can also make warm ginger milk with it. Ginger is especially helpful for nausea.
Keeping your child free from daycare induced illness is an ongoing process. Make sure they eat something helpful every day, whether it be pumpkin seeds, berries, or carrots and hummus. Avoid the sugar, add a probiotic and strategically include immune fighting foods to your child’s meal plan.
With a little luck, vigilant hand washing, and some careful planning, you may just win the relentless game of microbial tag. And if all else fails, you can try giving them some elderberry products or herbal teas, if necessary, to help them get over it faster.
About Dana Green Remedios
Dana is a triple board certified registered holistic nutritionist, speaker, writer, product information specialist, natural nutrition consultant practitioner and entrepreneur. She founded Healthy Wealthy Habits and The Healthy Hormone Method. Dana has an honours bilingual Bachelor degree in Political Science, a diploma in natural nutrition plus post-graduate training in detoxification, functional nutrition and coaching for self-actualization. She has a passion for helping people discover greater health, joy, and expression, and a strong clinical interest in chronic disease and hormone imbalances and their connection to social determinants of health such as poverty, lifestyle and trauma. She has spoken internationally related to health and wellness, is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy Blog and is frequently quoted as a nutrition expert in the media. Dana is also the mother to 12 year old boy and a life partner and a parent.