Winter can be a magical time for many. There's the fresh fallen snow and the dazzling icicles, as well as the fun and merriment of holidays, vacations, and snow days. But for many moms, especially ones with very new babies, winter also represents a hazardous minefield of fevers, viral infections, and runny noses. The good news is that with a few dietary and lifestyle modifications, moms can defend themselves and their brood from the onslaught of germs.
1. Eat less (or no) sugar.
The holidays have come and gone, and many will have indulged in their fair share of sweets, treats, and decadent eats. But all of that sugar can actually work against the immune system by suppressing its ability to actively fight off viral infections. Even if you're not the New Year's resolutions kind of person, deciding to reduce your (and your kids") sugar intake until the spring will help to prevent long-lasting colds that never seem to go away, as well as other pesky viral impostors. Plus it has the added benefit of contributing to weight loss if you're still trying to shed any of that stubborn baby weight.
2. Eat more vitamin C.
People naturally consume less fruit during the winter since it isn't in season, but also because we tend to crave comfort foods which are generally rich in fats and starchy carbs. There's nothing wrong with giving into those comfort food callings, but adding in regular amounts of fresh fruits, especially oranges, apples, and lemons, can dramatically increase the bioavailable vitamin C that your body receives. If you want an even greater boost, or you're sick, taking a vitamin C supplement with your fruit will increase the nutrient absorption.
3. Drink less caffeine & alcohol.
Another thing we tend to indulge in over the holidays are beverages that contain caffeine and alcohol. These, too, can work against your immune system and overall body wellness as your liver and other organs must prioritize metabolizing them over other functions. It's probably not realistic for most moms to give up caffeine and/or alcohol altogether. After all, we exhaust ourselves on every level taking care of our kids and its only natural to want to find some level of reprieve by treating ourselves to beverages we enjoy. But keep in mind that life only gets harder if we get sick, and by reducing caffeine and alcohol, we can help to head off extra pressure on the immune system. Opt for plenty of water instead, and if you don't like drinking plain water, infuse it with any kind of fruit, herbal tea, or even cucumbers.
4. Take more vitamin D.
In recent years there has been much talk about how critical vitamin D is to total body wellness and immune function. Unless you live in the very southern U.S., or closer to the equator, odds are you're simply not getting enough. If you haven't had your vitamin D levels tested within the last year, it's worth making a call to your doctor to get your levels checked. Supplementing with vitamin D3 can have a huge impact on well-being, physical and mental, since vitamin D can also help combat depression, including postpartum depression. If you're breastfeeding, baby is getting all of his or her vitamin D from you, so you need to take more. If you've been tested and your levels are 35 or below, you could likely benefit from taking higher daily doses during the winter months.
5. Use less antibacterial soaps/wipes.
Our guts are populated with tons of bacteria -- there is more bacteria in our bodies than cells! We are healthy when the "good" or beneficial bacteria outnumber the "bad" bacteria. When we overload our homes and our bodies on antibacterial products in hopes of keeping the bad ones at bay, we also destroy the good ones. Just like antibiotics don't target only the bacteria causing illness, so antibacterial soaps and sanitizers don't only kill the germs we don't want. Instead of using these chemical soaps, just stick to regular hand washing with good old fashioned soap. It's far more effective than you think. And keep in mind, while children need to be in clean environments, they don't need sterile environments. Some levels of "bad" bacteria are necessary to help their immune systems learn to fight them off.
6. Increase your probiotics.
Continuing the previous point, we can replenish the good bacteria in our bodies by eating and supplementing with probiotics. Certain foods that are fermented contain natural probiotics which help to maintain a favorable bacterial balance in the gut. You can also get these good guy bacteria from probiotic supplements, which are available at most health food stores. When selecting one, make sure you read the inactive ingredients -- you want as few as possible -- and make sure they need to be refrigerated, which is a sign that the bacteria are actually live and beneficial.
7. Reduce visitors & social calls.
This probably seems like a no-brainer, but just because there are holidays/events/birthdays etc. does not mean that you are required to invite people into your home. No, we shouldn't live in fear of germs or sickness, but depending on how young your child(ren) are, it may be best to limit visits during cold and flu season. That will cut down on exposure. When you do have guests, even if they don't intend to hold your child, ask them to wash their hands, and to leave coats and shoes at the door.
Yeah, if you're the parent of a small child, you may laugh at this, but it still bears noting that sleep is critical for both mom and baby health. Even if you're not sleeping through the night, never has the advice been more pertinent to "sleep when baby sleeps" as it is during cold and flu season. Even if your child is older, make time each day for a period of rest. Our bodies get stronger when we sleep, and if we are running ourselves ragged, our immune systems can't muster the energy to fight off the bugs we're exposed to. Don't aim for a perfect 8 hours of sleep, because that's not possible for most of us, but simply try to rest more than you're used to. Any little extra helps.
9. Spice it up with garlic.
When it comes to garlic, people either seem to love it or hate it. But garlic is a super immune booster, and even if you don't enjoy the stuff, consider stocking your home with several cloves to be used in case of emergency. If you feel a cold or flu bug coming on, or you've been around sick people, you can roast them in the oven and then eat them, or, if you're really crunchy, you can eat the whole clove raw. Yes, you're going to smell like you've eaten garlic, but I like to tell people that viruses don't like the smell of garlic, so they stay far away from you. Seriously though, it may sound ridiculous, but garlic can nip a virus in the bud faster than almost anything else. If you really can't handle the idea of eating garlic, you can purchase garlic supplements that are (quite literally) easier to swallow.
10. Move more.
It's so difficult for many of us to keep up regular fitness routines when we are chasing after kids, but it can become even harder in the winter months when weather keeps us inside. Still, even if you're used to long runs or regular gym workouts, you can make use of even the smallest space in the house to give your body a good boost from regular exercise. Yoga, Pilates, and barre workouts are all conducive to smaller spaces and are also excellent stress busters. They also promote restorative sleep. Even if you're not the yoga type, consider giving one of these a try, and you may find yourself hooked on the amazing benefits far beyond the end of flu season.
Writer Aimee McNew has a Master's in Holistic Nutrition Therapy (MNT) and is also a Certified Practitioner of Nutrition Therapy (CNTP). Read her posts on nutrition and wellness at https://www.aimeemcnew.com/.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.