Like many toddlers around the world, my two boys haven't played in a playground with other kids, gone to church nursery or daycare, or had play dates in almost a year. These precautions are designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, but they've also helped protect my 3-and-a-half-year-old and 2-year-old from common colds, flus, and other viral infections. This is great for me (Don't you hate it when your little ones get sick?), but how does it affect their still-growing immune systems? POPSUGAR spoke with pediatricians to find out how shelter-in-place and lockdown measures is affecting our toddlers' immune systems.
Has Shelter-in-Place Affected My Toddler's Immune System?
Typically, a toddler will have eight to 12 viral illnesses their first year in daycare or preschool as they interact with new friends. However, just because they aren't getting sick right now doesn't mean their immune systems aren't working, said Sara Hubermane Carbone, MD, a pediatrician with One Medical.
"Illnesses occur when the immune system encounters something foreign (like a virus) for the first time and is working to fight it off," Dr. Carbone told POPSUGAR. "With social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing over this past year, toddlers have been healthier than usual. However, their immune systems are still as active as ever, and are challenged by the environment constantly." She reminds us that we encounter bacteria, fungi, viruses, and allergens through normal activities like eating and drinking — which puts our immune systems to work without necessarily making us sick. So even though your toddlers might not be battling icky colds or dreaded hand, foot, and mouth, their immune systems are still doing what they need to to keep them healthy.
Will Shelter-in-Place Have Long-Term Consequences for My Toddler's Immune System?
Probably not! "Our immune systems are so complex and adaptable, and sheltering in place or quarantining will not have an effect on them in the long-term," Mona Amin, DO, FAAP, pediatrician and founder of PedsDocTalk told POPSUGAR. Again, just becasue you're not out and about doesn't mean life is germ-free! "Microbes live everywhere and these microbes are important for our immune system," Dr. Amin continued. "Overall, I am not concerned about any detriment to a child's immune system."
There may be a bout of illness as children start to come together again, but this is totally normal and nothing to fear. "Once children are around each other again, they will resume sharing germs and their immune systems will respond just as they would have prior to shelter in place," Dr. Carbone said. "We might see a small uptick in illness as toddlers get together again, but this would be similar to the uptick we see each fall as kids return to the classroom after summer break."
What Can I Do to Boost My Toddler's Immune System?
Just like any normal year, parents should just focus on helping your toddler build healthy habits. "The best thing we can do for our immune system is get a full night of sleep, promote physical activity and getting outdoors (weather permitting), and introduce a variety of fruits and vegetables into your child's diet," said Dr. Amin. "Our immune system is also largely affected by genetics, which we can't control, but what we put into our bodies and the sleep we get can be beneficial." And, since we are still in the pandemic, it's important to continue social distancing, mask wearing (for age 2 and above), and hand washing.
So for now, our experts agreed: Your child's immune system isn't suffering during the pandemic. "I wouldn't be concerned about an effect on toddlers' immune systems from quarantine," said Dr. Carbone. "Their immune system is working regardless of if they are coming down with symptoms!" Now, if your toddler has repetitive infections or other skin infections, that could be a sign of a reduced immune system, said Dr. Amin. If you're worried about infections, or your child's immune system, be sure to reach out to your pediatrician.