While there’s no stopping children getting sick at times, lots of illnesses can be warded off. Here are some things you can do to keep your child healthy…
1. Get child immunisations
Newborn babies have some immunity thanks to antibodies passing to them from you via the placenta (called passive immunity) in the last three months of pregnancy (NHS, 2018a). The bad news is that it doesn’t last long.
In fact, passive immunity will start to decrease after the first few weeks or months (NHS, 2018a). This is why your baby will have their first childhood immunisations at two months old.
Premature babies have a higher risk of developing an illness because their immune systems are not as strong and they haven't had as many antibodies passed to them. Babies who are breastfed will be immune for longer because the antibodies will get to them via your milk (NHS, 2018a).
2. Observe good hygiene
You might have been pretty good with it before anyway but when you have a baby, there’s double the amount of hand-washing to be done. You’ll need to wash your hands and your child’s hands frequently (NHS, 2016a).
Follow the NHS guidelines for how to do it properly, rather than doing a token shove-under-the-tap gesture, especially after your baby feeds. And when you’re on the move, carry an alcohol-based hand rub in your changing bag so you can get yours and your baby’s hands clean (NHS, 2016a).
Oh, and as well as keeping surfaces in your house clean, you now have a new de-germing task: toys. While there isn’t much you can do about toys at baby groups, wash the ones at home regularly. Soft toys can often go in the washing machine and the rest can be washed up just like your plates with washing-up liquid and a cloth (NHS, 2017a).
3. Avoid people who are ill when you have a newborn
It’s totally acceptable to cancel plans with people who are sick when you have a tiny baby, especially if they were born prematurely (NHS, 2018a). Newborns are super susceptible to getting ill and their immune systems aren’t fully developed yet, so a polite ‘we’ll leave it until you’re better thanks’ is fine.
4. Consider breastfeeding
If you want to and can breastfeed, your baby will get natural, germ-killing antibodies through your breast milk. Those antibodies will help your baby fight infections like tummy bugs, diarrhoea, colds, and chest and ear infections (NHS Startforlife, 2018).
Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and childhood leukaemia. Exclusively breastfeeding your baby for six months offers great protection but any amount is beneficial (NHS, 2017c).
5. Keep healthy yourself
Eat a balanced, healthy diet, get regular exercise and make sure you’re outside enough that you get plenty of fresh air, even in winter (NHS, 2016b, 2017b,d). The healthier you are, the healthier your child is likely to be.
6. Prioritise your baby’s sleep
Sleep is crucial for good health so just like adults, children need their sleep (NHS, 2017b). We know too well a good night’s sleep is not always possible if you’re dealing with teething, colic or a child who just doesn’t fancy bed tonight. But try when possible to give your child a good sleep schedule (NHS, 2017b). This means they nap, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – and that will help them stay healthy too.
This page was last reviewed in April 2018.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Find out about the More Than a Cold campaign which provides a winter illness checklist for parents and other preventative tips.
NHS Choices has useful information about looking after a sick child.
NHS Startforlife. (2018a) Breastfeeding. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/baby/breastfeeding/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIyv_f-ZGX2gIVh4KyCh0nAQstEAAYASAAEgJzj_D_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds [Accessed 1st March 2018]
NHS. (2016a) How to wash your hands. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/homehygiene/Pages/how-to-wash-your-hands-properly.aspx [Accessed 1st March 2018]
NHS. (2016b) Eating a balanced diet. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Healthyeating.aspx [Accessed 1st March 2018]
NHS. (2017a) How to prevent germs from spreading. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/homehygiene/Pages/prevent-germs-from-spreading.aspx [Accessed 1st March 2018]
NHS. (2017b) Five ways to stay healthy this winter. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/winterhealth/Pages/Healthywinter.aspx [Accessed 1st March 2018]
NHS. (2017c) Benefits of breastfeeding. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/benefits-breastfeeding/#health-benefits-of-breastfeeding-for-your-baby [Accessed 1st March 2018]
NHS. (2017d) Vitamins and minerals. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/food-and-nutrition/eating-well/vitamins-and-minerals [Accessed 1st March 2018]
NHS. (2018a) How long do babies carry their mother's immunity? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/939.aspx?CategoryID=62&SubCategoryID=63 [Accessed 1st March 2018]
NHS. (2018b) Sickness and diarrhoea. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sickness-and-diarrhoea/ [Accessed 1st March 2018]