From a cold to a cough to a stomach virus to the flu to (gulp) hand-foot-and-mouth disease, wintertime can make every parent feel like we’re playing whack-a-mole with every illness under the sun. It can feel like kids start getting sick during back-to-school and don’t quite escape the sniffles zone until…May? But there are a few folks who have double expertise in keeping kids healthy throughout the cold, dry, flu-filled winter months: moms who also happen to be medical doctors. We tapped our favorite mama docs (and one dentist) for their healthy hacks and not-so-secret secrets to staying strong and sickness-free as a family.
Here’s what mom doctors do to keep their kids from getting sick. Copycatting welcome.
They cover their toothbrushes
Sure, it’s super-important to make sure your kids are brushing their teeth twice a day, but the heads of toothbrushes can be a breeding ground for germs, and dental hygiene can impact other areas of your health and immunity.
“We know that the mouth is a major doorway for airborne and environmental contaminants, and families can infect and reinfect each other by brushing teeth with dirty toothbrushes if left unprotected. This type of cross contamination is something you can help avoid by protecting your toothbrush,” Dr. Danielle Gilbert-Fowler, a pediatric dentist at Palm Tree Dentistry in Ridgecrest, California, tells SheKnows. She recommends the Steripod ($11.99 at Amazon), which you can take with you on the go and have during flu season.
They serve fruits & vegetables
Yes, it sounds obvious, but it can’t be overstated: Kids need fresh fruits and veggies to keep their immunity high and get the nutrition they need, Dr. Lisa Lewis, a pediatrician and author of Feed the Baby Hummus, tells SheKnows. “Year-round, I serve my family fruits and vegetables at every opportunity. Fruits and vegetables are the best natural immune system-building substances we know,” she says.
“I have one child who is very picky about vegetables. For him, I try to be a ‘sneaky’ chef and add vegetables into recipes and drinks. Sometimes he catches me, but it’s worth a try to keep him as healthy as possible,” she adds.
They use elderberry syrup
If your kid has come down with something and is coughing and sniffling, bust out the elderberry syrup. “When my children get ill, I use elderberry syrup once daily to boost their immune system. Although elderberry needs to be studied more, elderberry has been shown to have some antiviral properties,” Lewis says.
They teach effective handwashing
It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how often people don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom at home or throughout the day. Doorknobs, desks and transportation — all these things are filled with germs.
“I promote handwashing for all family members — regularly. It may sound cliché, but handwashing is the best defense against the spread of germs. Children who wash their hands regularly will pick up less illness,” says Lewis.
They teach them to stop touching their faces
Bacteria can spread all over your face from your hands, which can mess with your immune system. Especially if you’re sticking fingers in your mouth or touching your lips. “Teach your child to not touch their eyes or mouth, or rub their nose. Any germs on their hands can be directly [spread] onto their mucous membranes and quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Reminding your child and having tissues around to use if they do want to rub their nose also helps,“ pediatrician Dr. Alison Mitzner tells SheKnows.
They enforce bedtime
Don’t get in the habit of having your kid wait up to watch TV too late in the night. “Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Sleep is so important for so many reasons, and one is that lack of sleep can affect your immune system,” says Mitzner. “If you don’t get enough sleep, you are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus — and it also takes longer to recover if you do get sick,” she adds.
A version of this story was originally published in January 2019.