Toddlers and young children get lots of colds. In fact, it’s not uncommon for some children to get 8 to 10 colds a year before turning 2 years old. Young children have not had the time to build up their immune systems, making them susceptible to over 100 different cold viruses. (1)
The good news is that there are simple ways to provide immune support for your toddler. And even better, these healthy immune support strategies also benefit you and your entire family.
Why Do Toddlers Get So Many Colds?
Toddlers get frequent colds for these reasons (1,2):
- Lower immune system support: toddlers and young children do not have the immunity that older children and adults have.
- Daycare, school, playdates: colds spread quickly because of how young children play and interact. Sharing toys, playing closely with each other, and kids simply being kids.
- Hand and mouth contact: toddlers and young children like to put everything in their mouths. Germs and viruses spread really easily when children touch their eyes, mouth, or nose.
- Winter seasonality and indoor play: cold and flu seasons are closely associated with the winter season because we’re indoors frequently, increasing exposure to more viruses and germs.
Once toddlers have a cold virus, they become immune to it. This explains why your children get fewer colds as they age. Typically, toddlers who attend daycare will have fewer colds when they start school than children who do not attend daycare. (1)
It’s important to remember that your littles will catch colds. This is part of being a young child. Catching frequent colds is not an indicator of a weak immune system. The immune system builds up its defenses by exposure to viruses and catching colds. (1)
Key Facts About the Immune System Parents Need to Know
These key facts about the immune system can help when learning how to provide immune support for your toddler:
There are two types of immunity: innate and adaptive. (3,4)
Innate immunity is our body’s first line of defense against pathogens, including germs, viruses, toxins, and bacteria. This defense system is an intricate system of protective barriers including:
- Stomach acid
- Enzymes in our sweat and tears
- Immune system cells
Your child’s innate immunity is the first to respond to germs, viruses, toxins, and bacteria. Your child’s innate immunity is inherited and is active as soon as your child is born.
Adaptive or acquired immunity is the part of our immune system that develops and strengthens as we are exposed to pathogens. The spleen, tonsils, thymus, bone marrow, and lymph nodes regulate this immunity.
When a foreign substance enters the body, these organs and cells respond with antibodies and different types of white blood cells and other immune cells. This immune response is specific to germs, bacteria, toxins, or viruses.
Your little’s adaptive immunity changes as they age, are exposed to different pathogens, and receive immunizations and vaccines.
- Nutrition, gut health, and the microbiome influence immune system health. (4,5)
Your intestinal microbiome is a collection of bacteria, yeasts, and viruses that live in your gut and do an enormous amount of work to keep you healthy.
David Heber, MD, Ph.D., professor emeritus of medicine at UCLA Health, says, “Seventy percent of the immune system is located in the gut. Nutrition is a key modulator of immune function.” (5)
High-fiber foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are shown to help encourage the growth of healthful gut microbes known as prebiotics. Prebiotics help stimulate immune cell activity and are food for the healthful bacteria or probiotics in your gut. (6)
A diet containing both prebiotic and probiotic foods can help support a stronger and more active immune system. Probiotics are available in supplement form and in unpasteurized fermented foods, including kefir, sauerkraut, and some cheeses. (6)
How to Help A Toddler with a Cold
While there isn’t a cure for the common cold, you can take steps to ease your toddler’s cold symptoms. (2,7)
- Fluids: good hydration helps to thin mucus and detoxifies the body. Warm herbal tea such as ginger tea with honey, can help soothe a cough and relax the airway. Keep your littles hydrated with water, warm soup, apple juice, and electrolyte solutions.
- Sleep: during sleep, your immune system goes to work, releasing proteins called cytokines. Some of these cytokines are essential to help fight illness and infection.
- Avoid secondhand smoke: avoid exposure to all cigarette and tobacco smoke. Not only do these irritate the nose and throat, but secondhand smoke also has a range of dangerous side effects.
- Saline rinse: using a nasal saline rinse is shown to reduce respiratory infections. For kids over 4 years old, a saline rinse kit or neti pot can be effective. Just use the recommended saline solution without any added herbs, and be sure to use distilled water. (8)
- Vapor rub: a homemade vapor rub can help ease your toddler’s cold symptoms at night, helping your little one sleep better. Use our natural vapor rub recipe in our guide to boosting your child’s immune system.
Staying home and resting is key to helping your little ones recover from a cold. Not only do you want to help prevent spreading germs to others, but children need to slow down, so the immune system has a chance to do its job.
How to Provide Immune Support for Your Toddler
You can provide immune support for your toddler by incorporating simple lifestyle habits. These lifestyle habits are backed by science, affordable, 100% safe, and free from dangerous side effects.
1. Eat the rainbow. Citrus fruits, brightly colored vegetables, and leafy greens are great sources of immune-supporting vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. (9)
2. Take immune-supporting vitamins and minerals. Focus on zinc and vitamins C, D3, and E. (10, 11, 12, 13)
3. Wash your hands frequently. The CDC says handwashing can prevent 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as colds or the flu, and 1 in 3 diarrhea-related sicknesses. (14)
4. Remember your microbiome. Support your gut health with probiotics and a diet rich in prebiotic foods. (15, 16)
5. Get outdoors for fresh air, exercise, and vitamin D. Moving our bodies helps reduce stress, detoxes the body, and can encourage immune-supporting changes in white blood cells and antibodies. (17, 18)
6. Get your zzz’s. Make sleep a priority, especially for your littles who are constantly on-the-go. Keep in mind these recommended hours of sleep (19):
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
7. Look for immune system support supplements that provide hard-to-get nutrients, including DHA, echinacea, elderberry, and propolis. (20, 21, 22)
8. Limit stress for your children and the entire family. The American Psychological Association says stress directly impacts the body’s ability to fight viruses. (23)
As hard as it is to see your littles struggling with cold symptoms, know that it’s normal for your toddlers to catch colds. Focus on what you can control, giving your kids the nourishment to support healthy immunity.