Is it Good for Kids to Get Sick?
Over the past couple of months, I have had some sort of flu, a stomach bug and most recently covid. There have been a few days of reprieve in-between viruses and bugs, but for the most part, I can’t remember the last time I felt healthy. Apparently this is toddler mom life.
With a nearly 3 year old who attends several indoor group activities with little booger fingers flying everywhere, it is really no surprise that we all keep getting sick. My toddler will develop symptoms (fever, vomiting, excessive sleepiness, etc) a day or two before my husband and I develop the same symptoms. The difference is that my tot gets over these ailments in a day or less, whereas it takes my husband and I at least a week, usually longer.
All of these recent bouts of illness have really made me want to put my toddler into a bubble and go back to our early pandemic lifestyle; isolated from people and germs! And especially being 25 weeks pregnant right now, I’m just over it!
The problem is though, is that I am living with a wildly energetic toddler. When my son was younger, he was far more content to just play with me and go about our relatively solitary activities at home and at quiet parks. Now though, I feel like he is ready for so much more.
So, what is one to do? How uptight should I really be about exposure to germs and viruses? While having covid was certainly no fun, we all got through it and are all relatively fine. And if I don’t let my toddler get exposed to all the bugs now, will his immune system ultimately be weak and out of practice as he gets older? Am I just prolonging the inevitable and we will be sick all of the time anyways later on when he is in elementary school?
In an attempt to make an educated decision about how much indoor group activity I want to expose my toddler to this winter and while pregnant, I did a little research.
Do Kids Who Don’t Go To Daycare Or Preschool Have Weakened Immune Systems?
So my first question is, do babies and toddlers who don’t go to daycare or preschool (or have a lot of exposure in general) have less developed immune systems than those that do? Will they suffer as they get older because their immune systems never battled illnesses when they were younger? Is being a stay at home mom and keeping my son out of daycare yet another thing I am going to store away in my pesky Stay at Home Mom Shame database?
Somewhat surprisingly, I found that the answer to whether or not babies and toddlers need to contract a bunch of illnesses in order to develop their immune systems is not as simple as a yes or no answer.
Melinda Moyer from The New York Times explains that while being around other kids and sharing microbes and getting various illnesses can help develop the immune system, it is not solely responsible. Genetics and lifestyle play a big role too.
For example, Pop Sugar recommends exposing kids to a bunch of relatively harmless microbes to help develop their immune systems. These are microbes that probably won’t get them sick, but that will still be beneficial. They get exposed to these microbes and maintain strong immune systems in the following ways;
- spending time outside as much as possible
- eating a variety of fruits and vegetables
- getting good nights of sleep
Additionally, Cleveland Clinic explains that it really is best to protect kids as much as possible from certain illnesses when they’re very young. For example, they state that it is best if kids don’t get an illness like RSV very early in life. This isn’t the case for all illnesses, but there are certainly some that are best to avoid until later in life. Cleveland Clinic also recommends the following ways to support kids’ healthy immune system development in addition to those listed above;
- having a dog in the home and having your child spending time around it
- breastfeeding for longer
So while I’m not going to put my child into a bubble, I am going to take steps that I can within reason to keep him away from excessively germy petri dishes. I want him to socialize with other kids and have fun playing at indoor playgrounds this winter, but I can be selective (eg, choosing less crowded places, having playdates outside when possible, washing hands after group activity etc).
And I do not think that being somewhat selective and cautious about germs makes me overbearing or is going to negatively impact my son’s immune system development. I have the luxury to be more selective about activities and exposure levels as a stay at home mom, so I am going to embrace that! And I’m also going to keep in mind those ways listed above to keep my toddler healthy overall that will support the development of his immune system.
And looking forward, University of Utah states that most kids will be getting sick less often by the time they reach middle elementary school. Sure does seem like a long ways away, but it’s nice to know that most kids follow this timeline and it’s all perfectly normal.
Sending everyone good health vibes this season!