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Ways to build immunity for a preemie baby


Every new parent wants to ensure their baby is healthy and grows well. The baby’s immunity has to be prioritised, for it keeps them free of infections, colds, diarrhoea, and allergies, which are the main causes of illness in the early years.

Dr S Giridhar, consultant neonatologist and paediatrician, Motherhood Hospitals, Chennai, says boosting the child’s immune system naturally will help in bonding and is considered safe when done appropriately. “These are also critical considerations while travelling with a preemie. These natural remedies can keep them fit and healthy.”

According to the doctor, there are many natural ways for parents to improve their child’s immunity in the comfort of their own home; read on.

* Breast milk: The breast milk of mothers delivering preemies has more protein, fat and sodium salt, and this suits the nutritional needs of the preterm infant. In addition, the bioactive substances in milk like antibodies and live cells help fight diseases. This improves the baby’s immunity and also helps protect against devastating gut illnesses.

* Probiotics: Probiotics are live organisms that confer health benefits to the baby. The gut of the preemie is often compromised and the protective bacterial flora is altered, resulting in ‘dysbiosis’. This results in gut injury and makes the child prone to allergies later in life. Feeding probiotics to preemies reestablishes the good bacteria.

* Essential oils: Babies usually receive a variety of drugs and tests while in the NICU. Using oils for promoting skin integrity could help in the protection against infections that enter through the skin.

The time-tested oils that can be used are coconut oil and sunflower oil. Gentle oil massages help the skin to heal and have calming effects. Oil massages can also improve weight of preemies. Every night after bath, give the little one a massage, which can also help you bond with the child. If you don’t have time for a thorough massage but want to test essential oils, rub a small amount on the bottoms of the baby’s feet.

* Dietary supplements: One of the most important methods to keep preemies healthy is to provide them with nutritious meals. The preemie infant is on exclusive milk feeds in the first 6 months of life. But by 6 months, complementary feeds are generally started in addition to continuation of milk feeds. Good sources of vitamin C include breast milk and vitamin C-rich foods like oranges and strawberries.

When travelling, this can be difficult, but bringing a cooler of food has always been beneficial. So many baby foods contain processed wheat and sugar, both of which destroy immunity. Find out more about dietary immune boosters and the balance that must be maintained.

The role of prebiotics in the development of infant immunity

Dr Giridhar says prebiotics are complex sugars, which provide fuel for the growth of probiotics. Prebiotics constitute the third-greatest component of human milk after lactose and lipids and are also obtained from dietary fibres in weaning foods. “The perceived advantages of prebiotics include growth of healthy gut flora, fighting disease-causing microorganisms and softening of stools.”

Some health benefits of prebiotics for infants:

– Reduces diarrhoea
– Reduces constipation
– Reduces cold and fever incidence
– Reduces allergic diseases
– Promotes regular and smoother stools
– Reduces antibiotic usage
– Reduces infantile colic
– Improves gut health

“As preemie parents, you want the best for your child, but you must follow paediatrician’s advice and address it with him or her before commencing. Some of these suggestions encourage you to travel with your preemie or at the very least go to the grocery store,” the doctor concludes.

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