6 Ways to Support Your Child’s Body Defense System

Farah Waheda Wahid
Credit: Picture credited to Google

It’s a simple fact: kids tend to get sick a lot when they’re young. In fact, children under age 6 get an average of six to eight colds a year1, plus ear infections, bouts of diarrhea and other illnesses. On top of that, some also have allergies, asthma and eczema.

While there’s not a lot you can do to keep germs from wreaking havoc on your child’s defense system, one of the best-kept secrets in preventing illness and boosting the body’s defense system can be found in the gut – or, more specifically, the gut microbiome.

What is the Gut Microbiome?

The microbiome is an enormous collection of approximately 100 trillion microbes, or microscopic organisms that live on and in your body, and most of them are found in the gastrointestinal tract - “the gut”2.

Bacteria are a class of microbes that are found in the gut. Some types of bacteria which are harmful can lead to infections and diseases, while others are healthy and helpful to boost the body’s defense system and improve digestion.

When there’s a balance between these healthy and harmful bacteria, your child’s body defense system is better prepared to fight off what may come.

Six Ways to Nurture Your Child’s Body Defense System

One of the best things you can do to help your child’s body defense system to develop now and well into the future is to optimize their gut health. Here are six easy and simple things that can help:

1. Know Your Prebiotics

2'-FL (2'-fucosyllactose), a special nutrient and the third most abundant component of breast milk, acts as a prebiotic that feeds the good bacteria in your child’s gut—where 70% of the body’s defense system lives. Abbott has more than 15 years of pioneering research in 2'-FL and over 20 scientific studies which have shown that 2'-FL can play an important role in helping to build a strong body defense system and improve a child’s digestive health3.

2. Choose a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables

Offer your children whole foods as part of their diets—including plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains. In particular, bananas and asparagus are rich in prebiotics, which help probiotics—found in fermented food like yogurt—do their jobs.

3. Become a Pet Lover4

Playing with a family or neighborhood pet has its benefits for the overall health of the body’s defense system—helping to diversify the species of bacteria in your child’s gut. In fact, studies show that safe interaction with pets can change the composition and diversity of the microbes in a child’s gut.

4. Let Your Child Get Dirty

Encourage your child to play outside and explore the outdoors. You don’t have to overdo cleanliness, but you should always make sure your child washes their hands after using the bathroom, before meals and when they are sick.

5. Move More

Exercise may also diversify your child’s gut microbes, a study in the journal Gut found. Make sure they get at least 60 minutes of activity each day at the park, the playground or an indoor play space on rainy days.

From the moment a child enters the world, the gut microbiome begins to develop. The first years of life are an especially critical time for growing trillions of bacteria to benefit the body’s defense system. With a few simple steps, parents can play an important role in helping to build a child’s body defense system – by first building a healthy gut – and laying the foundation for good health.

1 UptoDate. Patient education: The common cold in children (Beyond the Basics). Available from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/the-common-cold-in-children-beyond-the-basics. Last accessed December 5, 2019.
2 Guinane C and Cotter P. Role of the gut microbiota in health and chronic gastrointestinal disease: understanding a hidden metabolic organ. Available from
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667473/. Last accessed December 5, 2019.
3 Vandenplas Y, Berger B, Carnielli V et al. Human Milk Oligosaccharides: 2′-Fucosyllactose (2′-FL) and Lacto-N-Neotetraose (LNnT) in Infant Formula. Available from
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6164445/. Last accessed December 5, 2019.
4 Hein M. Tun, Theodore Konya, Tim K. Takaro. Exposure to household furry pets
influences the gut microbiota of infants at 3–4 months following various birth scenarios. Available from
https://microbiomejournal.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s40168-017-0254-x. Last accessed December 5, 2019.

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