Unfortunately, holiday cheer isn’t the only thing in the air these days. Seasonal colds and flu are swirling and suddenly it seems like everyone around is canceling plans—or showing up to them coughing and sneezing. For pregnant folks and parents of little ones especially, this time of year can feel especially daunting.
To help you and your family get through the season intact, we’ve compiled a list of our top 10 tips to stay well and thriving during the coming months. They can be used by both adults and little ones, but always consult your care provider if you have questions or concerns.
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1. Nourish Your Body
This is number one for a reason: Nutrition plays an absolutely critical role in maintaining overall health, and that becomes even more important during the winter months. As the weather gets colder our bodies might begin to crave more calories to stay warm. Focus on “eating the rainbow” through a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins and whole grains. Consider adding in plenty of foods high in vitamin C, like citrus fruits, strawberries and bell peppers, too. For picky kiddos, you can sneak in immune-boosting foods creatively, such as a smoothie with yogurt, berries and a handful of spinach. This is a good time to cut down on alcohol and minimize the sugar and processed foods, but we love dark chocolate and other treats in moderation. The best part about eating a balanced diet is that you’ll feel better, too!
2. Stay Hydrated
Since the body is made up of mostly water, it only makes sense that good hydration is crucial to a functioning immune system. Adults should aim for at least eight glasses of water a day (for kids, check out this handy guide). Pregnant and nursing women may need to increase their water intake. Milk, juice, tea and coffee also count, and fruits and vegetables with high water content—like watermelon or cucumber—are helpful, too. One way we especially love to increase fluid intake this season is by sipping on homemade bone broth. (Tip: freeze your bone broth in ice cube trays so that you can always have some on hand if needed.) If kids resist drinking water, try infusing it with natural flavors like berries to be extra fun.
3. Prioritize Rest and Practice the Art of Saying “No”
Adequate rest is important for your immune system to function at full strength. Ideally, adults require seven to nine hours of quality sleep to recharge and to keep the immune system strong. While that’s not always possible for parents, especially parents of young children, carving out intentional moments for rest, whether a quiet evening at home with a cup of tea or a short nap, can replenish energy and foster a sense of calm. And it’s okay to decline invitations, delegate tasks or simplify traditions if that’s what your body is craving. Remember, saying “no” is not a rejection of others; it’s an affirmation of self-care and well-being. And lastly, consider creating (or dusting off) a relaxing bedtime routine to improve sleep quality. Some of our favorite ways to unwind include: putting away the screens, journaling, practicing deep breathing and aromatherapy.
4. Keep it Moving
Time and again, research proves that movement and exercise boost the immune system. In a 2011 study, the most significant factor in the prevention of respiratory infections was found to be exercise—even over stress and diet. Physical activity for five or more days per week was associated with a 43% reduced risk of upper respiratory infection and also severity of infection, compared to exercising less than one day each week. Exercising even for 20 minutes per week had an impact. But just because we know it’s good for us doesn’t mean we make it a priority. The key, I’ve found, is choosing something that I enjoy. You don’t have to go hard at the gym or run long distances to get the benefit. Some exercises to try include dancing, swimming or yoga.
5. Practice Hand Hygiene
It’s time to bring back those hand-washing skills you learned when COVID-19 first appeared: Scrub hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, or about how long it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Though not as effective as good ol’ soap and water, hand sanitizer is good to have in your bag for when you’re out and about and don’t have access to a sink.
6. Consider Immune-Boosting Herbs and Supplements
Research shows that certain herbs and supplements may be effective for prevention as well as shortening the duration and severity of colds or flu should you get sick. Some of our favorites for this season include Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, Elderberry and Irish Sea Moss. And because a healthy immune system depends on a healthy, well-functioning gut, you might also consider adding a probiotic to the mix for extra support. Fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and kombucha, also naturally provide us with probiotics. Pregnant and breastfeeding individuals should always consult a healthcare provider or other certified practitioner about the safety of supplements.
7. Get Enough Fresh Air and Sunlight
Even the most outdoorsy among us may prefer to hibernate for the duration of winter. It’s certainly tempting (and sometimes necessary!) to stay cozy indoors, but we also need fresh air and sunlight in the winter months to be well. It’s a proven fact that going outside regularly has huge benefits for mental and physical health alike, and natural vitamin D from the sun plays a crucial role in immune health. I love the Norwegian saying “Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær!” which translates to “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes!” Get your winter wardrobe ready so that you’ve got no excuses.
8. Reduce Stress
Stress plays a major role in immune function. That’s because stress can reduce the number of natural killer cells or lymphocytes in the body, which are needed to fight viruses. Life is often stressful (especially these days!), and though it’s not possible to eradicate stress completely, there are a number of ways to reduce stress so that it doesn’t negatively impact your body. What works for one person may not work for another, so find what fits your unique lifestyle. Some things to try: meditation, deep breathing, journaling, dancing, time with friends or in nature. New and expectant mothers especially should carve out time for self-care. Asking for or hiring help is not a sign of weakness; rather, it’s a proactive and empowering choice that supports your health and well-being.
9. Reduce Your Exposure to Germs
Though being with others is indeed good for overall health, there are ways to do so mindfully to lower risks to your health. Pandemic-era practices like social distancing and wearing masks can be used during this season, especially in crowded or enclosed spaces. Limiting visitors to your home is a good idea, too, especially during the postpartum period when you and your baby are healing and recovering.
10. Make a Plan Ahead of Time
As much as we try to avoid it, the occasional illness is normal, especially in the winter. So it’s a good idea to set aside time to prepare for the season now—when you’re healthy and clear-headed—rather than being forced to make rushed decisions in the heat of the moment. Some questions to consider: Will you and/or your kids be vaccinated for the flu? How about COVID-19 boosters? Do you have a trusted healthcare provider you can call if you or someone in your family falls ill? Who else could you call on should you need a helping hand? Do you have a stocked medicine cabinet, including your preferred remedies, tissues and pain relievers/fever reducers? No better time than now!
By adopting these tips, you can empower yourself and your family to navigate the challenges of cold and flu season. Remember: a healthy lifestyle is a powerful defense against seasonal illnesses, ensuring you and your little ones can enjoy this time of year to the fullest. Stay well! And let us know in the comments what else you would add.
About the Author
Jessica is a mother of two small kiddos. She is a journalist and writer with a passion for women’s health. She is committed to destigmatizing conversations about the challenges and messiness of modern motherhood—right alongside the magic.
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