Staying healthy during winter is important for you and your baby. When your baby is under six months, they are often getting all of their nutrition through you, so it’s even more important at this time. There are many things you can do to boost your immune system. Chinese medicine is a holistic health system that has been around for over 2500 years and it has many pearls of wisdom to share when it comes to breastfeeding and boosting your immunity.
Preventing colds, flu and other winter nasties
What to eat and drink
Drinking a large glass of warm water with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon is a great way to start your morning. This helps get your digestive system going, moves any stagnation that’s lying around, helps to move your bowels and wakes up your liver. Packed full of vitamin C, it’s a great way to boost your immunity at the start of your day.
Eating at least one soup or stew throughout the day will help ensure your body is given the nutrition it needs to elevate your immunity. Soups and stews are known for their ease when it comes to digestion. They are also known to improve your breast milk, especially when they have been slow cooked from a base of animal bones (ideally free-range and organic).
When you are preparing food, consider adding these sorts of ingredients:
- Garlic has wonderful antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- Ginger is warming and healing for the gut.
- Shallots help your body fend off any viruses or bacteria trying to penetrate.
You don’t have to use them all at once, but they’re great to add in different dishes here and there for you and your family.
Another beauty is the shiitake mushroom. Considered to be a superfood, the shiitake is powerful for boosting your immunity, and has been added to many nutritional powders you’ll buy over the counter. You can buy shiitake mushrooms fresh or dehydrated. With the dehydrated ones, all you need to do is wash them and then leave them to sit in a little water for an hour or so before adding them to a stir fry. If you are making a slow-cooked soup or stew, you can put them straight in. However, they absorb lots of liquid and will become quite a lot bigger, so sometimes people like to soak them until they swell, cut them up, then add them. It’s totally up to you.
Shiitakes are said to have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-blood-clotting properties. In this study published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology in 2009, they found that shiitakes boosted the immune system by stimulating the production of macrophages – your white blood cells, which are involved in your body’s initial response to infection.
What to wear
What you wear during winter will have an impact on your immunity. It’s important you don’t let your feet, lower back and neck get cold. Sounds strange? Let me explain.
According to Chinese medical theory, your body should act like an ice-capped mountain. You should be warm at the bottom and cool at the top. Instead, many of us have cold feet and hot heads!
Imagine this mountain for a moment – the sun is warming it and the trees and shrubs at the bottom grow well. As you climb the mountain it gets cooler and the snow sets at the top. This is how our bodies should be to ensure all our energy runs smoothly and our systems work the best – warm at the bottom and cool at the top. When you are at home, wear socks or slippers. When you’re dashing out the door, make sure you have covered shoes on and there’s no gap between your top and bottom to allow any chilling of your kidneys. And always bring a scarf!
Treatment: What can you do if you get sick?
Throat and sinus treatments
If your efforts at prevention haven’t worked and you find yourself getting sick, you should gargle with salt water as that can really help a sore throat.
You could also consider using a neti pot. This is a brilliant device, which has a long history in India. It is used for nasal irrigation and works so much better than any other spray or method you’ll find at the chemist. It effectively removes mucus and lingering viruses from your sinuses for good. It feels amazing afterwards and I would highly recommend it to any breastfeeding mother – it’s completely safe. I do advise you to use all boiling water and wait for it to cool down to warm – don’t fill it up with cold water. It’s safer that way.
Stay away from mucus-forming foods, including:
- Deep-fried food
- Cold food straight out of the fridge
- Dairy products.
You can slowly reintroduce these after you are well. Sugar really can deplete your immune system so consider this one carefully. If you feel you have quite strong sugar cravings, try snacking on protein regularly (nuts and seeds, hard-boiled eggs, miso soup and smoked salmon). Gluten and dairy free Boobie Bikkies are a nutritious low sugar treat option.
Herbs can be wonderful when you have a cold. For the initial stages of a cold I recommend a formula called Sang Ju Yin (Mulberry leaf and Chrysanthemum Decoction). This formula works well, whether you get a sore throat straight away or a headache and runny nose. It helps to vent the early stage of a virus, stops coughs and promotes a healthy respiratory system. It is administered in pill form, as a liquid or as a herbal tea. It is safe to take whilst breastfeeding – it’s actually a good first port of call for the whole family. This is a great one to have on the shelf at home, ready to go when the bugs hit.
What if you don’t have herbs or you’ve tried them and they don’t do the trick? Maybe you feel your virus has penetrated a little deeper – your glands are up, you’ve got a really sore throat and a phlegmy cough. At this stage of the game, you’ll need to consider a different formula. It really is best to have a quick consult with your herbalist to get just the right formula for you. There are many to choose from.
All herbs you can buy off the shelf in Australia – Chinese included – need to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia so they are safe for general use. However, when you are breastfeeding, make sure you tell your herbalist so they can administer the right formula for you.
Why consider herbs over popping some paracetamol? Herbs strengthen your body to heal itself whilst pharmaceuticals usually just ease the symptomatic distress. Sometimes that is necessary, but where possible, it’s better to strengthen your body to fight the virus.
Probiotics are another powerful way to boost your immune system. If you haven’t considered them as prevention, then you should definitely start taking them when you are sick. More than 70% of your immunity is found in your gut lining so it’s super important that it is functioning well. If you have had antibiotics recently, you should definitely take probiotics to restore your gut lining.
Not all probiotics are created equally. Ask your local health food store or herbalist about these ones:
- Ultra Flora Restore by Metagenics if you’ve had antibiotics recently
- Ultra Flora Immune by Metagenics if you’re unwell with an upper respiratory infection
- Flora Care for Kids if it’s your children who are unwell.
Where to find these healing herbs
You can find these herbs at a Chinese herbalist in your area or your nearest Chinatown. (You can also buy them by calling 1800 RED TENT and we can send them out to you ).
Study on Immunostimulating activity of macrophage treated with purified polysaccharides from liquid culture and fruiting body of Lentinus edodes. Lee HH, Lee JS, Cho JY, Kim YE, Hong EK. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2009 Jun;19(6):566-72. PMID: 19597314 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free Article – See more at: http://vitalitymagazine.com/article/shiitake-mushrooms-champion-of-the-immune-system/#sthash.N0IViQ2B.dpuf
By Rebecca Mar Young, director of Red Tent Health Centre in Sydney and Acubirth®, Acupuncturist & Chinese Herbalist with a special focus on Pregnancy, Mum’s and Kid’s Health, Mother-of-two and lover of life.