From Baby to Toddler – Boosting your growing baby’s immunity

Your little bubba is growing up. They’re starting to walk and they’ve got a few words. They’re turning into a real little person.

At the same time, their digestive system is maturing and their immunity is working hard to protect them from viruses, bacteria, parasites and other bugs. If they’re still at home with you, it’s easier to protect them. If they have older brothers and sisters or they go to day care, their little system may need more help navigating this period of their life.

Their immune system is 70% in their gut and so it’s important that their gut health is in tip top shape. Chinese medical theory looks at the gut in a different way to what we’re used to. It looks at the little person in terms of how hot or cold, damp or dry their digestive energy is. So if your little one is “hot” inside they may very well have a ravenous appetite. If they are “damp” inside, they may not have much of an appetite at all, they may get skin problems such as dry skin or eczema or they may get recurrent ear infections.

 What you can do to boost their immune system – apart from breastfeeding?

 Make sure they eat well

You may think this means the same thing as it does when you’re an adult, but it doesn’t. Little people need different kinds of food. They need most of their food cooked and warm in an easily digestible fashion. They need very simple combinations of food to make sure it doesn’t create “damp” in their body. They only need small amounts of dairy, good quality protein and fruit; a medium amount of quality grains (white rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, rye, barely) and much larger amounts of vegetables.

When they’re sick and mucousy, dairy and fruit should be eliminated and replaced with bone broth to help their little body clear the “damp” much faster. In some cases children need to avoid dairy altogether for a few months, which will help them get back on track much faster.

Their clothes

It’s important you make sure that their feet and midriff don’t get cold. Allowing these areas to get cold breaks down their body’s defences a little bit and allows any bugs that are lurking to penetrate and take hold of your little one. The weather is quite changeable at the moment and you can be caught with a cold spring breeze, so have an extra pair of socks in your bag and a long-sleeve top!

Getting sick helps their immunity

Babies should get sick sometimes. However, they ideally should have a decent reaction to the bug and be able to get over it fairly quickly. That’s the sign of a strong, healthy, growing immune system.

If they just have the sniffles a lot, and it never seems to develop into anything, then they are struggling and need help. If they have a big reaction and can’t get over it by themselves and they need antibiotics, but then it just drags on and on after that – or they need a second script, then they also need more help. That’s another warning sign that something isn’t right.

Always, always, always, after a round of antibiotics, your child will need probiotics to put the good bacteria back into their gut. That is your golden rule of thumb. Ideally you can avoid antibiotics by arming yourself with methods of boosting immunity such as diet, herbs and lifestyle, but sometimes antibiotics just can’t be avoided and that’s okay. Thank goodness we live in a time when they are available when we need them.

Part of getting sick also includes fevers and how to manage them. This is such an important topic. See the end of the article for more details.


Sleep is important as every mother knows, as that’s when a lot of healing takes place. You’ve probably already noticed that your baby will sleep more at some stage of the healing process. They may find it hard to sleep in the beginning with all the mucus they’re coughing up and when it’s blocking their nasal passages.

That’s when a product like Fess Little Noses can be helpful – this is a saltwater solution that can help to break down the mucus and make it easier for them to breathe. You can also consider burning an essential oil like eucalyptus. Unless they have super dry nasal passages and a cough, I wouldn’t recommend a humidifier as that just adds to the “damp” in their body and in this situation (particularly in summer when it can be humid) you’ll need to dry them out rather than put more wet in.

The other thing you can consider is raising their mattress if they’re sleeping in a cot so it’s on a bit of an incline – this can help to drain the mucus and it won’t pool as much. Take advantage of pram or car trips and give them sleeps if they’ll take them there, as they’ll be quite upright and may have a better sleep than laying flat. The other place is on you in a carrier. These have that added benefit of your heartbeat and skin-on-skin, which can also speed up the healing process.

 Day care

If you think about it, it’s not really that natural that little kids are around heaps of other little kids all at once touching each other, saliva-ing over each other and basically making it really easy for bugs to transfer quickly from one little gorgeous kiddy to another. It’s a bit of a nightmare for parents and a happy little “damp” playground for the bugs.

Your best defence is their diet, and potentially having some herbal remedies ready to go when they do get sick. If they’re getting sick a lot, then probiotics are a must as well as immune-boosting herbs. More on that later.

 How do you know when your child needs more help than diet?

If your child is coming down with something once a month, that’s too often. It means they’re struggling and will benefit from a diet check-up, probiotics and possibly herbal medicine. If you don’t seem to get a window where they are clear and they’re always fighting something off, that is another warning sign.

A common example is a child who has been mostly well until one day they pick up something nasty. It goes to their ears or their chest. They need antibiotics and from that time on they’re never quite right. They’re not as strong as they were before. What they need is the right probiotic for them to get their gut flora back in balance and they may also need some Chinese herbs to help clear the “damp” that has been left by the infection. Antibiotics are great at clearing the infection but not all the mucus and goop that’s left behind and so it leaves a breeding ground for other bugs to flourish in.


This is something that you should consider for your bubba if they were born via cesarian section, if they’ve ever had antibiotics, or if you had antibiotics whilst pregnant, during birth or breastfeeding. Antibiotics kill the bad guys in the gut as well as the good guys, so it’s most important to help the good guys flourish again as 70% of your immunity lies in your gut.

It’s important to get the right probiotics for your child. Typically these strains are important for them to have: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and if their gut needs restoring after antibiotics, some Colostrum powder from cow’s can also be beneficial.

Herbal medicine

There are many wonderful herbs to help when your baby or toddler is sick, or when they need an immune and gut boost in between sicknesses. Since every little bubba is different, you’ll get the best results if a special formula is made up just for them. On occasion, the ready-made formulas can be just what they need, but it depends – it’s always best to seek the advice of a registered and qualified Chinese herbalist.

These herbs are frequently prescribed after the initial illness has been cleared. They will help to boost your child’s immunity. They won’t be the only ones prescribed but they could form part of the overall formula.

Milk-vetch root (Astragalis)

Reishi mushroom

White Atractylodes rhizome

Ledebouriella root

Chinese herbal medicines have been used successfully for children for hundreds of years. Chinese herbs are safe to use with children, provided you consult a practitioner who works with children and who uses herbal medicines that are regulated by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods of Australia).

If you’re not sure, just ask your practitioner and only work with those who are registered by AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency).


Rebecca Mar Young is an AHPRA registered Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who runs the Red Tent Health Centre as well as online courses for Mums and Midwives. She focuses on pregnancy, birth, mums’ health and children. She’s a mother of two and on Nov 11 @ 12noon she’ll be giving a free talk on ‘Fevers & Your Toddler’. To find out more and sign up, click here

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