Thursday, April 11, 2013

Building an immune system - Exposing our daughter to germs

11-months-old, first time in the front of the shopping cart, looking like a pro
When we brought home our daughter as a new baby, I couldn't imagine putting her on the floor without a blanket under her, or letting people with unwashed hands touch her face or fingers. I would cringe when she put visibly-dirty toys in her mouth and I hoped and prayed that she wouldn't get sick when other kids would put their fingers in her mouth! My husband asked me how long I was going to protect her from germs.  Honestly, I had no idea. I really wasn't sure how long I would feel like that, but I knew somehow at that point that I did need to protect her to some extent. Newborns are fragile in that regard, I feel. Breastfeeding really helps to build an immune system, so she has had that going for her from the start. We chose not to have her vaccinated, at least in her first year, so I wanted to make sure that her immune system was sturdy enough to handle whatever she might come in contact with, Lord willing.

I never intended to have her grow up in a sterile environment. We don't use antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer in our house, because I feel that it simply isn't necessary and the negatives far outweigh the positives, but we do wash our hands thoroughly. I do sanitize pacifiers and bottle parts with boiling water every now and then, especially after a cold or illness. My husband and I take vitamins, drink juice from fresh fruits and veggies and enjoy outdoor activities. We very rarely get sick. When I started teaching, I used nearly all of my sick days because my immune system was overloaded with every bug being passed around the school. I remember distinctly the feeling of doom that washed over me with every droplet of spit aimed at my face by a sneezing or coughing kindergartener that first year, because I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would soon be sneezing or coughing too. At that point, my immune system was still recovering from having mono in college. This year, I haven't been sick at all yet - praise God! 

changing a diaper in the woods - on a log
When she was five-months-old, I found that I was okay with the idea of her scooting around on our floor without a blanket under her and when she would drop her pacifier (on the rare occasion that it wasn't strapped to her car seat), I would take off and visible dirt and hair before popping it back into her mouth. Actually, I am a big fan of pacifier straps, but that will be another post. At first I only put her down on our own floor, followed later by floors at my friends' houses and eventually the church floor. I am careful about the hospital and nursing home floors because of C-diff and MRSA, which I do not want her exposed to. I read an article a few days ago that suggests that people in developed countries are more likely to suffer from allergies, especially those who live in cities. The article suggests that the allergies could develop because we are not exposed to as many germs and parasites here as people are in other parts of the world. There is most likely a genetic component too, but I want to make sure that I am not protecting our daughter from normal germs. I want her body to have a strong immune system. If I could afford it, I would feed her only organic foods, grown as close to home as possible, with at least half of each meal consisting of raw vegetables. When the ground warms up enough, I want her to walk barefoot outside and sink her fingers and toes into the garden. I want her to play in the dirt. I played outside almost every day as a child, and I worry that many children don't get outside enough anymore. I am also thankful that we have a well with wonderful water here. I am leery about having so many chemicals in town water. I know that the water has been extensively tested and deemed "safe" but how much chlorine or fluoride should a body ingest? Drinking water is a great way to detoxify the body and keep things working smoothly. My mother is a firm believer in "drowning a cold" by drinking lots of water when you realize you might be coming down with something. I think I it makes sense, and I try to drink enough water.

As I am writing this, our daughter is 11-months-old and has had thrush as a baby, a fever on 2 occasions, a runny nose a few times and one cold that made her cough. I really don't like to take medicine unless I absolutely need it, and I don't like to give it to her either, though I have given her a fever-reducer once. For myself, I usually try everything else first - cinnamon, vinegar, honey, get the idea. When we had thrush (which is basically a yeast infection), I made a paste from 1/2 capsule of acidophilus and breast milk and put it in her mouth, and on her tush three times a day. I was also swallowing acidophilus to fight off the thrush in my body, since it is easy to pass it back and forth from mother to baby. After three weeks it was nearly gone when I got a clogged milk duct that turned into fire-like mastitis and had to go on antibiotics to kick it, which made the thrush exponentially worse over night. We eventually used medicine to get rid of the thrush, but I do believe that acidophilus would have taken care of it if I hadn't gone on the antibiotic. I still don't know why she had the fevers or where exactly she got the colds, but nothing has really knocked her down yet. Nursing helps babies to develop their immune systems because the baby communicates his or her needs to the mother, who then makes antibodies and feeds them back to the baby. Cool, right? I would rather have her exposed to colds and illnesses when she is still nursing and I can still "help" her fight them than keep her so isolated that she gets sick all the time when she is older. I am hoping to nurse her until she is at least two.

normally she'd wear the safety belt, but it is broken
When we go to stores, we usually carry our daughter around rather than keeping her in her car seat, simply because she sits in her car seat for at least 1-2 hours to and from the store, so I want her to be able to move when we are there. When I am by myself, I prefer to use my Boba carrier, but when my husband, mum or siblings are around, she gets carried and passed around as we shop. Now that she is bigger, I feel that she is old enough to sit in the front of the cart. I am not sure why I suddenly feel like she can handle it, but I do. I don't disinfect the cart or use a seat-liner. I don't want her licking the floor of the grocery store, but I want her exposed little by little to the germs that can help her to defend herself. I allow her to put the toys from the church nursery in her mouth. I am sure we will be experiencing more sniffles and maybe vomit, but I think it will be worth it in the long run, and this is coming from the mother who is terrified by the very thought of vomit. Are we taking a risk? Absolutely. We don't know what we are exposing her to and she hasn't been vaccinated against pertussis or polio etc. yet. I still think it is worth it. I don't have all of the answers. I got chicken pox when I was 16 and it was miserable because I had a really bad case. I would much rather have had it lightly at 6 or 7 like my younger siblings did. I know that shingles is awful, but I am still wary of the varicella shot...I would rather have her get actual chicken pox, if her friends get it. So many children are vaccinated against it that I am not sure if exposure will even be possible. I know that it can be dangerous, but so can eating peanut butter or swimming, and I intend to have her do those things. Maybe I need to look into the shingles vaccine more thoroughly.

I am not saying that using a shopping cart liner makes you a bad parent or that pacifier sanitizer is inherently evil. I am merely sharing my thoughts and feelings on a subject that I feel gets very little press. I know that I had to consciously make a decision about whether or not to wash the car seat liner or diaper bag before the first use (I didn't) or to wash new toys and stuffed animals before letting her put them in her mouth (I did). Now I usually let her have her new toys without washing them. These are decisions every parent has to make. If my daughter had been a preemie or had a compromised immune system, you can bet I would be doing things differently. Mum says that we all have to eat a peck of dirt before we die, and I am finally ready to let my daughter taste it.

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