By Dr Valérie Mariès – Pediatrician – CMI – HCMC
How can you protect your child from diseases when you live in Ho Chi Minh City? Which natural way will help him to develop his immune defenses?
In other words, here is a survival guide for a friendly urban environment that is sometimes too welcoming, overcrowded, polluted, and noisy…
At the very beginning of your baby’s life, everything is going well, before his birth he is “sterile,” he hasn’t encountered a single harmful thing like bad bacteria (there are also some good bacteria), viruses (which are never good!), parasites, mushrooms… But, therefore, he is fragile, his immune system is not yet proficient, it will only develop gradually thanks to the white cells that will react against foreign particles and produce antibodies.
At this stage your child is protected by his “natural barriers”, these first lines of defense are constituted by his skin, but by his natural orifices too, especially the most important, the intestine, as it contains, in a healthy adult, 1, 5 to 2 kg or approximately, a 100,000 billion more or less of good bacteria, more than our amount of cells and, in any case, more than we can count! Beneficial bacteria like Bifid bacteria and Lactobacillus, help to modulate our immune responses and prevent the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria. This intestinal wall constitutes the largest surface of our body in contact with foreign organisms and, because of the presence of neurons in it; who is like our second little “brain.” Consequently, it must be treated with the utmost care as all the future health of your baby depends on it! To build up this full immunity, the best thing, if you have a choice, is natural birth; studies have shown that contact with the healthy vaginal secretions of the mother at birth, allows transmitting its first good bacteria to the newborn. After birth, breastfeeding as soon as possible and as long as it can be done is the best option. The mother transmits the antibodies she has produced which are very valuable to the newborn baby, but also, many other substances that prevent the proliferation of pathogenic germs adhering to the mucous membranes. Ideally breastfeeding should be exclusive due to the “sugars” contained in infants’ formulas that can modify his intestinal flora.
During this period of vulnerability, it is not necessary to wash your baby often with aggressive or irritating washing agents but to protect him, avoiding crowded places as shopping malls, hospital, airports, railway stations, unless it is necessary of course. Do not let strangers touch him or kiss him, protect him from sneezing (which propels up to 3 million viruses and bacteria!) For this purpose, you can wrap him with a very light fabric that will protect him as well from drought air, insects and inopportune touching … and, above all, wash your hands very carefully with a non-irritating soap, you and the people taking care of him, when changing him, cooking for him, as soon as you return home from outside, after of course, going to the toilet…but also after you have been using your computer keyboard, touching doorknobs, money bills, as well as after peeling vegetables or clearing your groceries when you come back from the supermarket.
Another thing to bear in mind is to protect him from the animal most threatening to your entire family, that is, without a doubt, mosquitoes, vector of dengue fever and Zika virus among others. Put mosquito nets on all outdoor openings you are using, inspect the stroller before you install your child, mosquitoes love these hot, often synthetic and dark colored places. Repellents should be used with caution on the skin of your baby: only after six months and then a single spray a day for a child up to 2 years old (read the labels carefully). You can use air conditioning and spray insecticides, which are effective, in your room when the baby is not there, avoiding at that moment to open the windows.
To protect your child from parasites when arriving at the stage of food diversification, it is necessary to peel and wash vegetables and raw vegetables very carefully, soak them in filtered water with vinegar, and cook meat and fish thoroughly.
Choose to feed him with “live immunity boosters” such as yogurt (milk alone does not contain the good bacteria), legumes (lentils, dried beans, etc.), cruciferous plants (cabbages, broccoli, kale, turnips…) and vegetables with dark green leaves. Pectin (apples, orange, grapefruit, etc.) almonds and nuts, small fatty fish: sardines, herring, mackerel, olive oil, then, “antiseptic” foods: organic honey, ginger, lemon, garlic, onions. Avoid white sugar, all sweetened products and drinks and of course medical antibiotic treatments when they are not justified.
Since the cells that defend our system and make our antibodies have a memory, vaccines will be the complement to develop acquired immunity to specific diseases (hepatitis, tuberculosis, tetanus, polio, some meningitis, etc.). And if despite everything your child is particularly sensitive and develops certain pathologies repeatedly, you have to know that our genetic capital is responsible up to 15% in the occurrence of these disorders.
Your best weapon is to offer to your child a safe emotional environment, avoid all the sources of stress like noises and TV or computer screens, practice skin to skin, cocooning, carrying, enveloping him with your gaze and speech, talking to him in your mother tongue, giving him gentle massages and telling him stories. To play and create together will give every chance to his strength to thrive.