The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention shows that common colds and flus are the leading cause of missed days of school and work (1). Unfortunately, when you’re a mom, you don’t have the option of “calling in sick,” therefore having a robust and resilient immune system is even more important. Though the human body has a natural ability to respond to viruses that attack it during the cold and flu season, sometimes these defence mechanisms require additional support to respond effectively. A strong immune system cannot only reduce the risk of getting sick, but it can also reduce the severity and duration of sickness if you already have a bug, and can prevent you from passing it on to other members of the family. Moms are resilient. That means that their immune systems should be too. Here are some helpful tips for preventing colds and flu this winter (and yes, all of them are breastfeeding friendly): Build the Immune System through Good Nutrition:
- Consume lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy nuts and oils to ensure that you have enough Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and zinc. These nutrients are important cofactors in helping the immune system fight off infection.
- Avoid refined sugars and processed foods which can depress immune function and feed bacteria. This includes eliminating sources of dairy that can contribute to mucus production and feeling congested.
- Homemade bone broths are rich in easily absorbable minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur and trace minerals that can be difficult to obtain elsewhere.
- Additional supplementation with Vitamin D can also be effective as this vitamin is closely tied to immune function. Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor about testing your Vitamin D levels to ensure that you are dosing appropriately.
Make Lifestyle Changes to Support Immune System Resilience:
- Take your own advice – wash your hands and avoid exposure to others when they are sick.
- Being a mom can be stressful at the best of times, but it is even more important to manage your stress levels during the winter months. As your cortisol levels rise, it suppresses your immune system, leaving you more prone to developing colds and flus. Consider yoga, meditation, and deep breathing as effective coping strategies.
- Get adequate amounts of sleep to ensure that your body has adequate time to rest, restore, and build itself back up. When we find ourselves feeling run down and exhausted, we are often more prone to catching a bug.
- Moderate exercise can also be helpful. Through sweating we eliminate toxins from our body, which only stands to make us stronger.
- Start your morning with alternating hot and cold showers in a 3:1 ratio (3 minutes hot, 1 minute cold) to improve circulation and immune function. Remember to always end on cold and to perform at least 3 cycles.
- Try a steam inhalation with eucalyptus oil when sinus congestion arises. Boil 1 L of water and add 2-3 drop of essential oil, then create a tent over the bowl with a towel and hold your head under for 10-15 minutes. Be careful not to burn yourself!
- Using a Neti Pot with saline solution can also be effective for keeping the sinuses clear, and preventing any bad bacteria from setting up house.
- Ingest natural antiviral herbs like garlic and ginger liberally. Garlic is a potent antiviral that can help ward off nasty infections. Ensure that garlic is crushed in order to release the active constituent allicin, and then add liberally to salad dressings. For the brave ones out there, you can consume the garlic as is, or mixed into a bit of raw honey or maple syrup.
- Echinacea is safe while breastfeeding, and has antimicrobial and immuno-supportive properties.
Consult your Naturopathic Doctor for your individualized prevention plan, and to find out which treatment options are best for you and your family this winter.
References: 1. Center for Disease Control. Cold and Flu Prevention. October 2013.