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Two kids in daycare. It started in November. Both kids picked something up during a “well check up.” A 6-month-old and a 2 and a half-year-old. We had to cancel Thanksgiving they were so sick. Although, some friends of ours were nice enough to drop off some Thanksgiving leftovers at our door.
From that point on, it was a nightmare. One kid would get sick and a little less than a week later, the other one would get sick. They would be sick two weeks on and then two weeks off. They couldn’t go to daycare with fevers, so I exhausted all of my sick leave and vacation time at work. I would wake up at 5 am or work until midnight to make up hours. I did it sick. Because if you’ve ever had a baby, you know, they feel most loved when they sneeze in your face and put snot in your mouth.
We traveled to see my family for Christmas that year. I remember my 2-year-old laying on the airport floor and “swimming” around. At one point, I caught him licking the floor! Why?
Sure enough, the day after we arrived, the first kid came down with a fever. This time, it was RSV, which is dangerous for 6-month-old babies. Our entire trip was spent taking care of sick kids and trying to catch up on sleep when we had a second.
We went through bad colds, RSV, the flu, and even Hand, Foot and Mouth (thankfully, the baby didn’t get that). By March, I was so exhausted I couldn’t remember my name. Good thing I took some pictures, because I don’t remember much from that winter.
The last straw was June. I took a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old by myself to Seattle to visit my family. It was a nightmare flight (anyone with 2 early-walking energetic boys can relate). I barely made through the 6-hour flight. They got sick immediately. They gave me the worst coughing, sinus infection, conjunctivitis thing I’d had in years. I actually think I cracked a rib coughing! I was SO over being sick.
I researched anything that could decrease sick days in daycare and preschool kids. I read so many abstracts. We had dabbled in making homemade elderberry syrup, but it clearly wasn’t cutting it. Here’s what ended up changing things around for our family in addition to trying to serve as many veggies and a healthy diet as I could.
Always talk to your medical provider about giving supplements to your kiddo. I do not give medical advice here – these are some ideas for you to explore and research on your own.
In some studies, kids who received certain probiotic supplements tended to have less sick days than kids who did not receive the supplement. For most kids, probiotics are safe. Of course, if your child has an immune dysfunction or other condition, talking to a pediatrician before giving any supplements is a good idea.
You can get probiotics from a lot of sources. Yogurt, keifer, fermented foods like fresh pickles or sour kraut (in the refrigerated section of the grocery store), kombucha, or others. These are great when they are consumed regularly. Honestly, trying to get my kids to eat enough of these foods to make a difference wasn’t something I had energy for. I needed something easy and reliable.
Culturelle has Lactobacillus GG in it. A strain of probiotic that has been studied for use in kids. It’s been associated with less respiratory symptoms in daycare children, although research is still ongoing for respiratory illnesses. It’s also clinically shown to reduce contagious diarrhea and occasional digestive upset.
I also often (primarily) use Klaire Children’s Chewable because I like the blend of different probiotics in it. It has a lot of Lactobacillus Rhamnosus strains and those are helpful for the immune system as well.
I think it’s good to mix up probiotics now and then, so have a variety to work with is helpful.
2. Vitamin D
Good Vitamin D status in kids actually prevents colds and flu. For kids who have a low Vitamin D status, they are much more susceptible to colds and the flu. It’s not likely that kids get enough Vitamin D from food, and breastfeeding babies definitely need a Vitamin D supplement. Talk to your pediatrician about whether a Vitamin D supplement is a good idea for your kids. One thing I do is if my kids have to have any bloodwork (like a blood lead level test), I always ask the pediatrician to also do a Vitamin D test. This helps me know if they need more or less supplementation (because too high Vitamin D has no benefits and may cause harm!)
There are several schools of thought about the optimal levels of Vitamin D in humans. I happen to subscribe to the Vitamin D Council philosophy, so I look for higher levels of Vitamin D in my kids over 60 ng/ml. While some kids may be able to achieve this with 400 IU supplement per day, it is more likely that it will take a lot more. That’s where the blood tests come in handy. Remember, kids will make Vitamin D if their skin is exposed to the sun without sunscreen. So, they will not need as much of a supplement in the summer if they are outside without sunscreen.
The Vitamin D I give my kids is Nordic Naturals. They chew the capsules and love the flavor. I dose based on their blood levels and don’t give it every day. For little kids, you can cut the supplement open or use Nordic Naturals drops.
Elderberry changed our life. I’ve read all the research papers on the benefits of elderberry. There aren’t a ton of them, but they do suggest that it is beneficial for some people (there have not been studies in children). In the research so far, it successfully reduces the severity and duration of colds and flu (see contraindications at the bottom) when taken at the beginning of an illness. Note, this supplement does not keep you from getting sick. It strengthens your immune system when you are getting sick to fight back hard. Research is still ongoing, but researchers have observed that it seems to prevent viruses from replicating and it seems to strengthen the body’s immune response. To get the most improvement, you need to give elderberry within 24 hours of the onset of an illness.
The first time I tried it, I gave it to me and my kids before we traveled. Every single time prior to this, my kids had been sick (with fever) within 24 hours of arriving at our destination. We took therapeutic doses (2-4 times per day, according to the bottle) the day before and the day of the flight. Sure enough, within 24 hours I saw my kids getting sick. We continued the therapeutic doses. Instead of getting worse and getting fevers, everyone got better. We had a great trip (for the first time)!
I was a believer from that point on and swear by the stuff*. I tell everyone I know about it, because I will feel myself getting sick with a virus, I will take the elderberry syrup for a few days, and most times I get better. I don’t skip a beat and the kids don’t miss school.
I like the Nature’s Way brand because I’ve gotten results with it and I can buy it on Amazon (easy). I’m sure other brands work too, but I don’t have experience with them. They have 2 varieties that I buy. Immune Sambucus has Echinacea and zinc in it – both of which can also boost the body’s response to infection. Echinacea is something people may be allergic to if they are allergic to plants (especially rag weed). Also, it is not advised to take Echinacea for more than 2 weeks in a row or it actually reduces your ability to fight infection. So I use Immune Sambucus for when I see my kids have symptoms or when I feel a cold coming on.
Then there is Sambucus, which does not have the Echinacea in it. That I give to my kids off and on during cold and flu season. It comes in syrup and gummies. I keep both on hand and I often keep the gummies in my purse. That way, at the first sign of sickness, I can give someone a gummy. The gummies are also good to put into school lunches.
I also have PureDefense chewable tablets. These have elderberry, beta glucan (another supplement I am just learning about for immune function), and other good stuff. It’s another easy option that has research showing it boosts your immune systems.
*Contraindications: There have been no long-term studies of elderberry use, so I recommend not taking it continuously and only giving it when you see symptoms of illness. Also, it is contraindicated for people with autoimmune diseases. It strengthens the immune response in the body, which may not be helpful for people with certain autoimmune diseases. Additionally, it has been classified as not safe for pregnancy and lactation.
I’d love to hear more about your system for preventing your kids from getting sick in the comments! I know everyone has a magic formula to follow and we can all learn from each other.