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Natural Strategies for Toddler Immune System Support

Unfortunately, colds, flu, sniffles, and coughs are a fact of life for your children. All too often, when your kids get sick, so do you.

And while there is no cure for the common cold, the good news is that you can do simple things to boost your toddler’s immune support. These natural immune-boosting strategies can help fight germs and reduce the duration of sniffles, coughs, and flu.


Want to give your toddler's immune system a natural boost?

Take a look at our tips for incorporating immune-boosting foods into your toddler's balanced diet. From fruits and vegetables to lean proteins, there are plenty of delicious and nutritious options to help keep your little one healthy and happy.


Plan a Balanced Toddler Diet

You and your kids are what you eat, so it only makes smart sense to focus on eating immune-boosting healthy foods. Focus on vitamin and mineral-rich fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthful fats, and slow-acting carbohydrates. (1)

    • Citrus fruits: grapefruit, oranges, lemons, tangerines, clementines, and limes are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting cellular functions in both the innate and adaptive immune systems and protects immune cells from free radical damage. (1,2)
    • Vegetables: red bell pepper and broccoli are two vegetable stand-outs for their immune-boosting properties. Red bell pepper is rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene. Broccoli is a nutrient-rich source of vitamins A, C, and E, antioxidants, and fiber. (1)
    • Leafy greens: spinach isn’t just for Popeye, it’s also packed with vitamin C, antioxidants, and beta-carotene. Along with spinach, try to add kale and collard greens to smoothies, stews, casseroles, and salads. (1)
    • Nuts and seeds: almonds and sunflower seeds are ideal sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant. Research indicates that vitamin E plays a critical role in immunity by protecting immune cell membranes from oxidative damage and preserving the integrity of the immune system. (1,3)

          Try to add high-quality proteins (beans, legumes, fish, poultry) and high-quality fats (olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, butter) to each meal.


          Vitamins and Minerals Known to Boost Immunity for Toddlers

          Ensure your entire family gets adequate amounts of zinc and vitamins C, D3, and E.

          Zinc: this mineral is essential to healthy immune system function. Zinc ions help regulate intracellular signaling pathways in innate and adaptive immune cells. Natural food sources of zinc include pecans, seeds, wheat germ, beef, oysters, and crabs. (4, 5)

          The recommended daily amount of zinc per day (6):

          • 7 months to 3 years old: 3 mg
          • 4 – 8 years old: 5 mg
          • 9 – 13 years old: 8 mg
          • 14 – 18-year-old males: 11 mg
          • 14 – 18-year-old females: 9 mg

          Vitamin C: This antioxidant vitamin is well-known for its immune-boosting activities, including wound healing, white blood cell activity, and helping manage infections. (7)

          The recommended daily amount of vitamin C per day (8):

          • 7 – 12 months: 50 mg
          • 1 – 3 years old: 15 mg
          • 4 – 8 years old: 25 mg
          • 9 – 13 years old: 45 mg
          • 14 – 18-year-old males: 75 mg
          • 14 – 18-year-old females: 65 mg

          Vitamin D3: this essential nutrient supports immune homeostasis and is critical in immune cell (T cells) fighting viruses and bacteria. We tend to get less vitamin D in the winter because we’re indoors more with limited sun exposure. (9)

          The recommended daily amount of vitamin D per day (10):

          • Birth to 12 months: 10 mcg (400 IU)
          • 1 – 18 years old: 15 mcg (600 IU)

          Vitamin E: this fat-soluble nutrient is a powerful antioxidant, protecting cells from free radical damage and providing immune system support to aid in defending against viruses and bacteria. (11)

          The recommended daily amount per day (11):

          • 7 – 12 months: 5 mg
          • 1 – 3 years old: 6 mg
          • 4 – 8 years old: 7 mg
          • 9 – 13 years old: 11 mg
          • 14 – 18 years old: 15 mg


              Wash Hands Often

              According to the CDC, handwashing can prevent 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as colds or the flu, and 1 in 3 diarrhea-related sicknesses. (12)

              Bacteria and viruses are lurking everywhere on playground equipment, at the craft table at daycare, shopping carts in the grocery store, and door knobs and bus handles. Remind your children to wash their hands often – and not just after they use the restroom.

              Try to get your little ones to wash their hands as soon as they get home from a day out at daycare or school. Make it fun and sing the Alphabet Song to hit the recommended 20-second target for hand washing.

              Simply put, everyone in your house needs to make frequent hand washing a regular daily habit.


              Improve Toddler Gut Health

              It’s a little-known fact that 80% of your immune system lives in your gut wall. And this is why it’s important to prioritize gut health. One of the best ways to support your gut health is with probiotics.

              Probiotics are live microorganisms found in supplements and fermented foods. These specialized bacteria can help you digest food, promote a healthy immune system, provide energy, and help restore balance to your microbiome after an illness or immune system response. (13, 14)

              Recent research shows that taking a daily probiotic may reduce the occurrence of sniffles and shorten symptoms of runny nose, cough, and more in children. (15)

              A powder or liquid form of probiotic works well with toddlers because you can mix it into their smoothies, yogurt, or applesauce. Make sure the probiotic supplement you choose contains the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria strains. Some kids multivitamins, like Daily Bird Kids Liquid Multi+, include probiotics.


              Get Your Little One Outside for Fresh Air and Exercise

              Exercise, fresh air, and sunshine have overwhelming positive benefits to your toddler’s immune system support and overall health and wellness.

              Being active and getting outside to play in the park, jump on the trampoline, or ride bikes around the neighborhood are great ways to encourage and support healthy immune system activity in your children.

              Along with helping develop strong, healthy bones and muscles, physical activity helps reduce stress, detoxes the body (through sweat), and can stimulate positive change in white blood cells and antibodies, helping to provide immune system support. (16, 17)

              (Do Your Best to) Make Sleep a Priority

              When you sleep, your immune system goes to work, releasing proteins called cytokines. Some of these cytokines are essential to help fight illness and infection. When you or your kids are low on sleep, the production of these protective cytokines decreases. Sleep is one of the primary drivers of your immune cells. (18, 19, 20)

              The recommended hours of sleep (21):

              • Toddlers 1 – 2 years old: 11 – 14 hours (including naps)
              • Preschoolers 3 – 5 years old: 10 – 13 hours (including naps)
              • Children 6 – 12 years old: 9 – 12 hours
              • Teens 13 – 18 years old: 8 – 10 hours

              I know that it can be challenging to get your toddlers to sleep. These tips on how to get your kids to sleep may help you and your littles have an easier bedtime and deeper sleep (22):

              • Set consistent bedtimes and wake-up times.
              • Turn off the television and screens at least 2 hours before bedtime.
              • Establish a bedtime routine.
              • Try to emphasize relaxation and limit stress in the evening.
              • Create a sleep-friendly bedroom with quiet, darkness, soft sheets, relaxing music or bedtime reading, and a bedroom temperature of 65 to 70°F.


              Can My Toddler Take a DHA Supplement for Immune and Brain Health?

              DHA is an omega-3 essential fatty acid that has an important role in immune system health, brain function, cellular health, and memory function.

              Good sources of DHA and omega-3s include (23):

              • Fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, and sardines
              • Cod liver oil
              • Oysters

              Getting your toddlers to eat foods containing omega-3s and DHA can be challenging. For kids who don’t like these foods, an animal-based omega-3 supplement can meet dietary needs. Most of the cellular health benefits linked to omega-3 fats are associated with animal-based EPA and DHA – not plant-based ALA.


              Echinacea, Elderberry, and Propolis

              Echinacea, elderberry, and propolis are natural ingredients recognized for their immune system support functions and activities:

              • Echinacea: this herb has been recommended for centuries as a healing aid, with recent studies highlighting its health benefits, including immune system support. (24)
              • Elderberry: the extract from these dark purple berries contains antioxidant and immune-supporting properties. (25)
              • Propolis: derived from bee sap, propolis is made of flavonoids with powerful antioxidants, delivering multiple immune system benefits. (26)


              Limit Stress

              Everyone, including your children, experiences stress. Elevated and chronic stress levels can have serious impacts on immune system health. The American Psychological Association says stress can reduce the number of natural killer cells (lymphocytes) in the body, directly impacting the body’s ability to fight viruses. (27)

              We are learning more and more about how stress may impact the immune system. In fact, the research underscores the connection between high family and long-term stress and the impact on the child’s immune system. (28)

              It’s not easy seeing your children struggling with a cold or flu – do your best to control what you can. Download our guide to boosting your kids’ immune system for more tips on immune system support in children.