How to arm your baby’s fledgling immune system

800px-Dendritic_cellsThere are two immune responses involved in the fight against any germ: there is the very rapid innate immune response that forms the first crucial line of defense, and then there is the slower adaptive immune response, which is required for the effective vanquishing of that germ. There is nothing one can do to shore up the adaptive immune response, other than vaccinations against specific illnesses. When your baby is born, he/she is protected by the adaptive immune components (IgG antibodies) that are transferred via the umbilical cord into the baby.This rich and potent protection transferred from the mother starts to wane after the first 21-30 days of life, however, and is utterly depleted by  six months. Even after this protection wanes, active, fulminant infections may be largely prevented by optimizing/shoring up that first line of defense. Indeed, there is both anecdotal and scientific evidence to show that doing these very simple things may reduce the incidence of infection, and if infection results, then it is much milder and easy to get over.

                                                                           Vitamin D

D drops The levels of this “vitamin,” which is really a hormone that is so important that it may have shaped the evolution of human skin color, have been shown to be far too low in large sections of the population, and low levels strongly correlate with both disease incidence (topic for other post) and predisposition to infections, particularly respiratory infections such as pneumonia and influenza, enteric (stomach) infections, ear infections, urinary tract infections, and even the deadly dengue fever. It has also been implicated in susceptibility to tuberculosis. The correlative evidence, which shows that people who develop infections have generally lower levels of Vitamin D, is really, really strong. But is correlation also causation: i.e., are you really at greater risk for infections if you are vitamin D deficient, or did you become Vitamin D deficient as a result of your infection or general state of health? This is much harder to study.

To do so, you have to supplement one group of people with vitamin D, and give a similar other group of people a placebo, and see if the group that gets vitamin D get sick less often. Obviously, this would require a very large group of study subjects, observation over long periods of time, and a really good study design. Such difficult studies are underway, and the results are mixed: For example, one study in children showed a potential beneficial effect in decreasing the incidence of influenza. But the results are not clearcut: another clinical trial in adults yielded no protective effect. Yet, when I look at this study, I see two clear issues: 1) none of the study subjects was severely deficient (levels below 10 ng/mL; this group is the most vulnerable), and 2) the dose they supplemented with (1000 IU/day) was far too low. But such studies are difficult to design, and it is clear that theoretically, Vitamin D can protect you in 2 ways:

To summarize, Vitamin D is very important in optimizing and bringing balance to the immune response, and levels below 20 ng/mL may make your child more susceptible to infection and even worse, damage from the resulting inflammation. Breastfed babies are especially vulnerable to Vitamin D deficiency.  However, given its multiple roles, it is best not to get too high, and it is best if the vitamin D blood levels can be maintained at between 25-45 ng/mL. If your baby has little to no regular sun exposure (requirements would vary greatly depending on race), supplementing with this (400-800 IU/day) is crucial. Checking the blood levels of this at some point (fit it in whenever your child has a blood test for something else), and adjusting the dose you give your child based on his/her blood level is a very good idea.  

Probiotics:

The immune system and indeed, your overall health is largely modulated and regulated by the ginormous microbial population that populates your gut and also your skin. Scientists have long coined the term “normal flora” to describe the microbes that live in your gut, on your skin, in the membranes of your throat, etc. We need these bacteria, very badly so, to maintain health and to protect us. So unless you are sick and are sneezing/coughing on your hands, do not go gung-ho with the hand sanitizer on a regular basis when in the comfort of your own home/workplace.

 Recently, a great deal of attention has been paid to figuring out the composition of the normal flora in healthy and diseased people, and the striking thing is, that there are clear differences in the microbial communities. Scientists are now feverishly working to understand all this better. What they do know is that certain bacterial species may be protective, and indeed, a great deal of research has been directed towards identifying useful probiotics.

One such very promising candidate, especially in newborns and infants, is Lactobacillus reuteri. This bacterium, which was originally isolated from breast milk, is very promising because it produces a strong natural antibiotic reuterin that zaps various types of bacteria, and even fungi, viruses, and parasites. Basically, this one can keep all the really bad guys from moving in and making themselves at home, so to speak.  To summarize the research on this one: General digestive health:

  • Colic: Two out of three clinical trials, and considerable anecdotal evidence also support that this probiotic is more effective than other remedies in reducing the severity of infant colic, but this effect seems to be truer for breast-fed babies rather than formula-fed babies (also reviewed here).
  • Spitups: One small study showed a significant effect in reducing regurgitation in babies with reflux.
  • Constipation: One study showed that continued administration of L. reuteri helps resolve some parameters of constipation in infants
  • Diarrhea/gastrointerstinal disease: There is very strong evidence to show that L. reuteri reduces the incidence of diarrhea, as well as its duration and severity of gastroenteritis (reviewed here).

Protecting against specific conditions or microbes:

  • Asthma: Animal studies suggest thatL. reuteri may be protective against asthma. A study in asthmatic children also backed this up, which is pretty darned exciting, IMO.
  • Hemolytic uremic disease: While E. coli are generally harmless, certain strains can be very scary. Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), for example, can cause a life threatening condition  called hemolytic uremic disease; one study in mice showed that prior administration of L. reuteri protected mice against EHEC, which I find an extremely compelling argument for taking this probiotic.
  • Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): The very mention of this antibiotic-resistant superbug can strike terror into the hearts of hospital administrators: There is limited evidence to show that many probiotics (including L. reuteri) could act as natural deterrents to MRSA infection. Another really good reason to take this (and other) probiotics!

To summarize, this probiotic may promote health, comfort, and resistance to multiple infections in infants and children. Its safety in non-immunocompromised infants and even in pre-term babies is well established. This probiotic is marketed by BioGaia, a Swedish company. Subsequently, the L. reutri brand has been bought out by Gerber, and is marketed as Gerber Soothe. Both the original BioGaia ProTectis drops and Gerber Soothe Colic drops are available via Amazon in the US, and should be widely available in Europe as well, given the origins of the company. Note: This was originally isolated from breastmilk, suggesting that some, if not all women will pass it on via milk. However, its presence in your breast milk depends on your own microflora, and you may not have it at all, or have it in low quantities. Hence it is a good idea  for even breastfeeding moms to supplement with this (you can give it orally or in expressed breast milk, or some breast feeding moms directly apply it to their skin).

Virgin coconut oil:  

This is the richest source of lauric acid and also contains other fatty acids such aImages caprylic acid. This oil has been a traditional staple of many civilizations, and only in the last century, has incorrectly got a bad reputation for “increasing cholesterol.” That turned out to be a case of misinformation and misrepresentation that may have actually contributed to the increase in heart disease seen today, but that is a topic for another post.

Generally, the populations that consumed coconut oil traditionally enjoyed excellent health. I found this page extolling the virtues of virgin coconut oil very interesting reading, though all of it is anecdotal.

Lauric acid, the main fatty acid in coconut oil, is abundant in breast milk. As a side note, its levels in breast milk are not set in stone: they can go up and down depending on the mother’s diet. This highlights a very important point about breast milk: it acts as a distilled source of what is good for the baby, but the mother has to first obtain these things (such as DHA or lauric acid) either via diet or by synthesizing it from precursors. It would hence be a good idea for breast feeding mothers to incorporate coconut oil or products in their own diet.

Breast milk contains a lot of different things. Why focus on lauric acid? It is rather awesome because its rather eye-poppingly potent anti-microbial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Here is what I could find on either lauric acid or virgin coconut oil:

  •  Has bactericidal activity against a range of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Alone and also combination with organic acids such as lactic acid and citric acid,  both lauric acid and caprylic acid can inhibit the growth of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) strains, with caprylic acid (present in small amounts in VCO) being the most potent. Now, EHECs are scary news, causing about 73,000 infections annually in the US. While this rarely results in fatalities, the healthcare costs resulting from these infections is staggering. If this could be warded off by a little relatively cheap coconut oil, would it not be so worth it?
  • Multiple studies (giving this one as an example) have shown an effect against the causative agent of acne, Propionibacterium acnes
  • Inhibits the growth of C. difficile, an organism that is one of the most common causes of diarrhea.
  • There seem to be only limited studies on effects of lauric acid/virgin coconut oil on viral infection, but based on very limited evidence, it seems to inhibit some part of viral life cycle in a poorly understood way. One study showed that it inhibited the growth/production of VSV (a virus that mostly causes disease in animals) and also that of the Junin virus, which causes the appropriately frighteningly named disease, Argentine hemorrhagic fever (AHF).

To summarize, virgin coconut oil is safe and is even recommended for babies, given that they need a lot of saturated fat in their diets, especially the lauric acid. If you are formula feeding, check whether your formula contains coconut oil. Not all formulas have this. Even if they do, it may be hydrogenated coconut oil, which is far from ideal. It is a good idea to hence try supplementing even  store-bought formula with this one. Remember to get an organic, extra virgin source. If you are breast feeding, it would make sense to take the coconut oil yourself. When bottle feeding, you can add it to the formula. Where to buy all of these: If you do not live in the USA or Europe and cannot find a  good brand of these items locally, then iHerb, which offers international shipping to most countries, is a good resource for getting both the Virgin Coconut Oil and Vitamin D. Finding the probiotic (Biogaia ProTectis) is harder. Living in India, I usually have somebody send it over from the USA. You can also check this website to see if it is available in your country.

Collectively, we spend billions of dollars battling scary infections. Antibiotics, which were hailed as the white knights of modern medicine, are being beaten back by a wave of antibiotic resistance that some claim will reverse the advances made by modern medicine. The best weapon we have is the immune system, a marvelous multifaceted army, that when optimized to shore up that first line of defense, can beat off most things. If we arm it well at little cost to ourselves, it is not any guarantee that we will never get sick, but it is likely that the majority of people will atleast fall ill a little less frequently, and may be protected from some of the more scary things out there such as MRSA and EHECs, which are truly deadly when they strike.

Evidence from studies aside, do these things actually work? My daughter, who was born via surrogacy, was born via c-section, received intravenous antibiotics for a mild respiratory infection that looked like it was acquired in utero, and is not breast milk-fed: three strikes against the development of an optimal, balanced immune system. After we got home, I started her on a homemade formula that is made using goat’s milk, lactose (which promotes the development of a normal flora), virgin coconut oil, olive or safflower oil, and ghee, and is supplemented with Vitamin D, the probiotic (Biogaia ProTectis), and a fish-oil source of DHA. When she came home from the hospital, nearly everybody in the house caught a nasty cold that laid us low for days. Then one day, she started coughing sporadically, and I was convinced she would get the infection too. Magically, it never progressed, and she never showed the full-blown symptoms of the cold/bronchitis that we all had: I gave fervent thanks, but I never knew what was responsible for her managing to fight off a bug that all the adults in the house could not.

Since then, it has been two months and counting, she has never fallen even mildly ill, shows no signs of colic or spitups, her bowel movements resemble that of breast-fed baby, and is generally doing marvelously. When you consider this and her risk factors based on her circumstances (C-section delivery, antibiotics at birth, not breast-milk fed) and compare it with the mile-long list of things I have done, you have utterly no way of telling if any of those things was actually helpful, but you have to wonder. There is no way to know the true impact of any of these things, but you just have to do what you can do, when it is easy, economical, and safe.

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30 Responses to How to arm your baby’s fledgling immune system

  1. Dana says:

    Good post. Rani and I have already independently taken basically all of these measures with Ellie already so I can vouch! And lol, Jaya, crusading for vitamin D as always I see 🙂 I dare you to dress up as a vitamin D molecule for Halloween (if only to encourage India to celebrate that most marvelous holiday).

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    • Thanks Dana! And yes, I’m the butt of a long standing joke that I am a wannabe superhero trying to save the world by flinging vitamin D sachets at it 🙂 Halloween and India don’t go together too well, but I am looking forward,to going trick or treating with Gauri when I move back!

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  2. augusta19 says:

    this post is published right about the time that my own maternal hysteria is peaking: my (nearly) 16-month old daughter is on her second double-ear infection in 2 months, and on her second round of antibiotics. So THANK YOU.
    She has been receiving vitamin D through formula, and I have been giving her BioGaia since birth, but I had not considered the VCO. It had been on my radar, but I hadn’t really consolidated the bits of information I had about it, and how it could apply to her. Again, THANK YOU for doing the work for me.

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    • Augusta, you are so very welcome 🙂 About the vitamin D through formula, I do wonder if the amount received is adequate. What people are finding everywhere is that the official recommendations end up lowballing it. In my own case, I need about 2000 IU a day to stay above 30 ng/mL. While as an adult I weigh far more than a child, you have to take into consideration that since a baby is generating a ton of new tissue a day unlike an adult, the weight by weight comparison just does not fly. Every cell of the body requires a little vitamin D, with the needs of some tissue types (immune and brain cells) being higher than those of the others, and if you are making a lot of new cells daily, the new tissue generated every day will require a LOT of vitamin D; atleast this is the way I look at it. The goat milk brand I use is fortified with Vitamin D; I still give Gauri around 400-800 IU daily on top of it. The link between low vitamin D levels and persistent ear infections in infants is also pretty strong. This link discusses data presented at a conference, but you could do your own additional digging. https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/vitamin-d-news/vitamin-d-helps-prevent-ear-infections-according-to-new-trial/#

      In all this, the best way to figure out if the amount being received is adequate is via a blood test. I am itching to get Gauri tested, but I cannot get a blood draw done JUST for this; hopefully, I will have no need to do it till the official blood draw at one year of age.

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  3. Pam says:

    Vit D: I’m in the sun constantly and was really surprised that my blood test showed I was deficient. When I started supplementing, I felt better. I can’t say whether my immune system was boosted (although as I type, I realize I haven’t had a cold sore in ages nor a cold), but my libido returned, my eczema improved, and I was sleeping better. Neither of my children has been tested and neither take a supplement. The baby drinks lots of cow milk, both eat lots of spinach and they are brown as berries from the sun (we live in Los Angeles). I think their levels are probably good, but really, who knows. I’ll ask in November at the next peds appointment.

    We don’t take probiotics either, except on the rare occasion someone has antibiotics. It’s never been recommended.

    I regularly mix some coconut oil into my coffee. I’ve never considered giving it the children. I think I’ll try it based on your blog post.

    Both my kids are pretty healthy. My daughter nursed until 5 and my 18 month old is still nursing. Perhaps this gave them a boost. For me, the main ingredient for a healthy child is sleep, and lots of it. Their sleep schedules are the main priority in this house. I think people think I’m rigid, but there is nothing sadder than a tired baby/toddler/child.

    I wish I had more to contribute to this conversation. It’s a great post.

    Cheers to Gauri’s good health and her wonderful mom!

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    • Coconut oil in coffee…I should try that sometime. I just toss back some of it while making her formula, but this may be more palatable :). It also works in hot milk, but then, I don’t LIKE hot milk.

      About Vitamin D, if your darlings are out in the sun daily without sun block on (this part is really important) and enough skin exposed, their levels should be good. It is funny, but just this simple ability (making vitamin D through sun exposure) seems to differ between races. Caucasians are good at this if they go out without sunblock, while Indians really suck at this (the majority of the population is deficient, as opposed to caucasians, where only a small percentage (11%) of the healthy population are). The worst hit, of course, are people of African decent who have moved (or been transplanted) to colder climes.

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  4. bunintheovenplease says:

    wonderful post. Glad to see you confirm my suspicion that 100 iu vit D is far too little. Have you thought of taking extra zinc – as so many people are deficient? I find it works wonders if I or my daughter are coming down with a cold.

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    • Yes, zinc has been shown to help with a cold; I have zinc lozenges at home on standby for this very purpose. That said, I don’t know which zinc supplement is safe for babies, and I’m always looking for bioavailable sources of minerals as opposed to supplements, which are very poorly absorbed and are often riddled with less than ideal additives. I will start adding unsulphered black strap molasses as a source of iron and other minerals to her formula once she crosses 3 months; that does contain some zinc.

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  5. jaee says:

    Just to throw in another perspective, I breast feed my baby and she didnt get sick at all (fought off the sniffles twice in winter but it didnt manifest to a proper flu) till she started day care. I dont give her any meds other than Vit D and thats coz we dont get much sun here in Belgium. IMO if someone is BFing and follows a healthy diet, good stuff will pass on to the baby and its ok not to give a baby too many other things. Also, if a baby goes to a daycare, she/he will fall sick and its OK. it builds their immune system.
    Good luck with Gauri!

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    • Jaee, it is funny that your comment conveys exactly what my post conveys, with some caveats:
      Two of these things (the lauric acid and lactobacillus reuteri) are present in breast milk. Now, breast milk of different women may vary, depending on their diet and their general health. When a mom eats
      eats right and has the “right” bacteria, nothing is more healthy than her breast milk, and I thought that was what one would get through this post 🙂 I should add, colic is seem far too often in breast milk-fed babies, and often seems to be resolved by the lactobacillus reuteri (Biogaia) supplements. If you are eating right (salmon, coconut products) and your baby has no colic, then indeed all you have to do is give vitamin d if your child is not getting enough sun. Of course, once you stop breast feeding, giving coconut oil and this probiotic may provide another layer of protection against the seriously dangerous bugs such as MRSA and EHEC that can also be picked up through daycare. Note that immunity can be built against germs even when you are not getting visibly sick from them. The normal cold and run-of-the-mill diarrhea is fine, but the superugs such as MRSA can kill.

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  6. jaee says:

    True true. But one has to be careful not to get too carried away with giving all kinds of things to them. Babies tummies are immature at this age but they are resilient little things. one just needs to be a sensible parent in taking care of them.

    I’m not saying all this isnt useful info and that it works or not but for the new parents reading this: being a new parent can be overwhelming and its easy to freak out over everything little thing, relax and be sensible about baby care. Dont over analyse. Most of us survived without all the oils and the pro biotics. Else the human race would have perished by now. There are a lot more things ‘good for baby’ than what this blog lists and new research will always bring more products to light. But just coz its out there doesnt mean your baby needs it. just be sensible. Thats all!

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    • One does have to exercise sensibility while being a parent, yes. None of the things I talk about fall under the aegis of “all sorts of things,” so I am rather confused about how the second part of your comment fits in with this post.

      FYI, anybody who was breast-fed DID receive both probiotics (these are a very important part of breast milk, and in recent recognition of this, many infant formulas are also supplemented by various probiotics) and oils (fatty acids form a very large portion of breast milk, and infant formulas have always been supplemented with various oils; many of the higher-end ones have coconut oil; others have alternatives like soyabean oil). If you were not breast-fed and the commercial infant formula you received did not have oils (which would be illegal), you would be very far from okay 🙂

      Of course there are many things that this list does not cover. You clearly do not like, understand (since you said you never received probiotics or oils and survived without them), or welcome the contents of this post, and that is your opinion and I respect that. That said, there are many parents who LIKE to read up and be as well informed and very much welcome and understand posts such as this one. IMO, both parenting styles should be respected and tolerated, and it would be judgmental to call either style “not sensible.” Of course, the latter is also only my opinion. Parenting is now not a private thing; your choices are often called into question by your peers. I find this sad and wrong. There are parents around me who, with the very best of intentions, do things or select things I would never do/select for my own child. I never ever tell them that they should change what they are doing, or tell them that they should do what I do. It is their child and their parenting style, and everybody cannot agree with everybody else.

      This post is only meant to provide information. You can take this information, appreciate it and use it as some people have, or you can look at this information and disregard it. Either is absolutely okay. Calling this style “not sensible” and indirectly telling others (such as myself and any other parent who prefers to do a lot of research while parenting) to take it easy and not do research or over analyze is very much up to you, but it definitely goes against the “live and let live” school of philosophy.

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      • jaee says:

        Please read what I said, I said this is all useful info. I am not disagreeing with anything you have researched. Research is very important and blogs like these are useful. Nowhere does it insinuate that I dont not like or understand this post. So please dont make my comment what its not.
        All i am saying is that parents shouldnt give everything they have heard of to their kids. This blog might state 5 things, another one might state 6 more. Not that any of this info (well researched as I trust yours is) is useless. But each child is different and their needs are different so be aware of what your specific child needs and tailor to his or her body. For instance, mine needs Vit D but not much else. Someone else’s might need 3 out of 10 things… some other might need all the supplements.
        Its not like I am raising 2 children with no scientific knowledge or research. I am as weary and aware of what goes and should go in their body as you are. Like you said, there are different parenting styles and to each its own. Just wanted to put a small point across, thats all. Maybe this blog isnt the place for a different perspective.

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      • Jaee, your comment, especially the fact that you said “most of us survived without probiotics and oils” suggested you did not care for the contents of this post and was extremely confusing: it gave the impression that you did not get the gist of this, since I’ve repeatedly tried to convey that both of these are actually present in breast milk, and THAT is actually part of why I am selling them hard. What stood out was you telling new parents not to over analyze and “be sensible,” and maybe that took the attention from your other point, that if this post “pushes” 5 different things, another may “sell” 5 more, and parents will end up confused. Now,that is a perspective that is absolutely fine and welcome here and adds to the discussion, even if I do not agree with it based on my own worldview.

        There are many things that are gimmicks. There are others that are, atleast based on my perspective (limited as it may be), more likely to stand the test of time. This blog is in large part about trying to separate the gimmicks from what is truly useful.

        One really needs that degree of perspective to know what to go for. For example, grape seed extracts are “hot”. Resveratrol is “hot.” Zinc has been the flavor of the month for a while. Others may think about multivitamins for babies. I am very unlikely to ever push these, because the evidence is not strong enough, and in the wrong form (example: synthetic multivitamin supplements) may actually be very mildly harmful. I’m not saying my philosophy is right, but here it is: I tend to think that whatever has stood the test of time as a practice (for example, the consuming of coconut oil), or what Mother Nature seems to highlight as important (by example, by putting it in breastmilk) is what to go for.

        As to what your child needs, there is no way to know for sure and anticipate it fully. Everybody needs vitamin D, for example. The question is whether they get enough from sunblock-free sun exposure. This one is impossible to figure out, and people often turn out to be wrong. There are parents who are convinced they or their children are getting enough sun and they may be. But sometimes (especially if they are Indian) they turn out to be vitamin D-deficient. Once you stop breastfeeding, your kids may get the run-of-the-mill cold from daycare that poses no more than inconvenience/worry for a parent. This is okay, and does not necessitate precautions to keep it from happening. however, there is a very, very, very small chance of them coming into contact with MRSA, which can be deadly. You really cannot anticipate that, or their needs. You also seem to be under the impression that if they won’t fall sick from a germ, they wont get immunity to it. This is not true. Going to daycare and just living life is the workout for the immune system. Children will see bugs regularly in various contexts and most often develop immunity against these bugs without ever falling sick. This sort of situation could be referred to maybe as a “subclinical infection.” That is what I want for Gauri: an immune system that builds up a nice memory bank against various germs with her falling sick as little as possible during the process 🙂

        Finally, opposing perspectives that lead to lively debate are always welcome here. I’ve always got valuable perspective from the comments that follow a post, sometimes more than what I get from the post itself.

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  7. Amy says:

    I was annoyed that nobody (pediatrician, etc.) ever mentioned that my son should be getting a vitamin D supplement, and that it took me so long to realize I’d missed that point. I breast fed (still do, but not much at all to speak of at two years), and just found out that my levels are low (starting 2000 IU daily today!), so he probably was not getting nearly enough in my milk. We finally added some drops at…six or so months? but discontinued once he started on whole milk. Not sure on the timing anymore. He did have prolonged jaundice after birth, but I’m not sure how effective the sunshine we tried to give him to combat that would be on the vitamin D front?

    We never did actual probiotics, but soon after starting cow’s milk (around one year) we began adding a little kefir (usually blueberry or strawberry…I figure it’s gotta be better/less awful than the Quick powdered stuff we got as kids!) to his sippy cups of milk, so perhaps that helps a little? It does have some sugar, but given that he never has juice (well, rarely, there was some at his birthday party) I kind of shrug it off as a lesser of two evils.

    I need to work coconut oil into our diets – I’ve long used it externally (nipple cream, diaper wipe solution, on diaper rash, etc.) but have not consumed much. I’m (vainly) especially interested in the antibacterial effect on acne – is that mostly through diet or by applying topically? I’ve been lucky that my skin’s calmed down a lot in the last year or so but if I’m lucky enough to get (and stay, staying is always the iffy part) pregnant again I know it’ll go nuts all over again.

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      1. With respect to acne, in the study I linked to, they made a liposomal preparation (to enhance delivery) and used that against the acne-causing bug. Now, I don’t know whether a direct application of VCO would help; the lauric acid would be in the right place, but the oil may clog your pores. If you take it orally, there is no chance of it clogging your pores, but you would have to wonder if the lauric levels get high enough to be effective. If I were in your shoes, I would experiment with both methods to see which one would work…it is definitely useful systemically for more than just infection fighting, so taking it orally may not be a bad idea. Eventually, they may make a topical drug using lauric acid, but I don’t know if that is ready yet.

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      • Amy says:

        Thanks! I need to follow many/all of the above links still – read your post in a hurry, marked it as unread meaning to come back and click them and then comment…but did it in reverse order. 🙂

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  8. Amy says:

    Oh, I meant to add that we may just have been extremely lucky, but in two years I don’t think we’ve had more than two or three cases of the sniffles. No ear infections that we ever noticed, no tummy bugs that couldn’t be explained by new food introductions – I sometimes wonder if it’s too much luck to attribute to breastfeeding (we did supplement with regular old commercial formula from time to time in the first year) and not being in day care (he stays with my mom while we’re working) or if he’s inherited my theorized over-active immune system? Not something I can ever know, I suppose, but it’s sure been nice to not be at the pediatrician’s office for anything other than checkups!

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    • Its good that you bring up this point: the dominant factor in determining the strength of your immune system is always your genetics. You could tank up on lauric acid, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, selenium,etc., and if you have a genetic weakness in your immune system (due to certain mutations in, for example, the genes encoding TNF-alpha or IFN-alpha, or even the vitamin D receptor itself), you may still remain super vulnerable to infections. In contrast, you could also take no precautions and never fall sick because you have really great genetics. However, most of us though have neither too weak nor super strong immune system genes, and this is the group where these measures might give you a slight or definite edge.

      Also, if you breast-fed, it is always the most superior protection: like I said, both the probiotic and the lauric acid are present in breast milk, although the levels in different people would vary considerably. In addition to these, breast milk contains a host of other useful things! Nothing beats nature, and breast milk from somebody with a good diet and an ideal normal flora (one that includes Lactobacillus reuteri) is the BEST protection one can provide 🙂

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  9. Shilpa Modi says:

    Hey Jaya! Thank you for posting this. I read it a couple of times over. As informative as always!
    K was breast-fed and has no issues with cow’s milk. But I’m now inspired to try to prepare milk from non-dairy sources (at least for partially servings). 🙂
    Please keep up the good work!

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  10. Shilpa Modi says:

    Yeah, for sure, lets catch up. Would love to hear more about Gauri. 🙂

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  11. Heera says:

    Thanks Jaya !!!! This is very helpful!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Reshu says:

    Very well written post. But makes me feel bad that why I didn’t know these things earlier. I have a 5.5 months old. Being vegetarian I have virtually no DHA I my diet. The supplements I took during pregnancy had 200mg of life’s DHA and no EPA. And after having baby I didn’t take any prenatals for first few months. And now also I forget to take some days. So what do you think can I make it up for this now? Same with probiotics. I never took any supplement for this as well. Is there any way I can introduce these to my diet and pass it on to baby via breastmilk. How much quantity I should take ideally?. Because I am kind of skeptical giving direct supplements to him. I am currently giving him vitamin d drops ( d vi sol), after I read reviews of these drops a month back I switched to baby d drops but his stomach became upset with same and became fine as soon as I switched to d vi sol. That’s why I am skeptical to give any other supplement direct to him. Your views jaya?

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    • Well, the number one rule is DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP. About anything 🙂

      It is okay if you just start now. The value of these things, as I mentioned in my post, is very, very hard to gauge, and your child will be fine and healthy overall in the long run even if you do not do any off these things—all of this is about process optimization, if you will.

      This response is for both your comments:
      It seems really odd that the D drops got that reaction, and not poly-vi-sol, which is a really awful preparation (it has caramel coloring which is is not good, for example). So be sure that the response to the D drops was not just coincidental, as it would be very odd to think just vitamin D in olive oil or whatever they use could elicit an adverse reaction. Of course, anything is possible, and cannot rule out an allergy to a component in the prep.

      About DHA, you can give Nordic Naturals directly in formula, or you can take the supplements and BF. I have heard of one mom whose baby has a wide spectrum of allergies develop rashes after getting the Nordic Naturals baby DHA, but generally, most babies tolerate it just fine.

      With the probiotic, a lot of EBF moms apply it on their nipples before letting the baby feed. You can also add it directly into the milk, or give it in a spoon.

      For all these, follow dosage instructions on the bottle. With vitamin D, 400 IU may or may not be enough, depending on how deficient the baby was to start with, and how good he is at making it via sun exposure (a good part of the indian population seem to be not efficient at this), so a blood test to check around the one-year mark seems a good idea, especially if you have frequent infections.

      You just have to figure out what works for you, and trial and error is fine, but keep your doctor in the loop if you suspect allergies.

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  13. Reshu says:

    Btw sorry for clubbing question for DHA and probiotics at same place. Did read your article on DHA as well sometime back so included both here 🙂

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  14. Pingback: Shoring your immunity: a multipronged approach | Decoding Science

  15. Damini says:

    Excellent write up. Well written, concise and so helpful. Glad i stumbled upon it. 1 thing which you meantion about the dreaded MRSA. I was one of the unfortunate ones who had to go through it. My daughter was 2 and on a trip to india she caught MRSA skin infection, on coming bacl to USA we had to admit her to the hospital for a day, and had the postules removed from her skin, she had to go through a round of antibiotics after that. Is there any precautions i can take against this bacteria on future trips to india? I know you mentioned the probiotics, is it equally effective for 3-4 year old kids?

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