Exposure to antigens, or foreign substances, plays a crucial a role in bolstering his long-term health, as it elicits an immune response that helps keep his immune system strong.

Immune Support for Your Toddler: 12 to 24 Months

As your busy toddler explores his world, he'll come into contact with all kinds of germs and bacteria. The good news: Exposure to these antigens, or foreign substances, plays a crucial a role in bolstering his long-term health, as it elicits an immune response that helps keep his immune system strong. Here's what else can help build his foundation for good health.

Nutrition

Choose nutritious foods. A well-balanced diet is itself one of the immune system's best friends, fortifying your toddler's body. Nutrients known to have a positive affect on the immune system include protein (found in lean meat and fish), vitamin A (in red or orange vegetables and eggs), vitamin C (in citrus and strawberries), vitamin E (in fortified cereals, safflower oil, and peanut butter), and zinc (in lean meat, seafood, whole grains, and beans). Other nutrients may also affect the immune response, including iron and selenium.

Consider toddler milk. These products are specifically designed with toddlers in mind. Look for a high-quality product that offers lots of nutrients—including antioxidants to help support your child's immune system.

Say yes to yogurt. The live cultures in yogurt, a food that's fine for your toddler to be eating now, help support immune health. Look on the label for the words "live and active cultures," the seal of the National Yogurt Association, or the names of live cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Bifidobacterium bifidum (or Bifidus).

Pay attention to the pediatrician's concerns about your child's weight. Overweight or obese toddlers are at greater risk for reduced immune function. Changing or eliminating potentially harmful habits now, such as drinking too much juice or eating high fat snacks, will not only be beneficial to your toddler's health, it will help prevent weight problems later in life.

Health Care

Keep up with vaccinations. Your doctor will keep track of any shots your child receives at well-child visits and recommend changes to the schedule if necessary.

Consider annual flu shots. At this age, your child can get an annual flu shot, usually given in the fall before the start of flu season.

Don't ask the doctor for antibiotics to treat a cold. The common cold is caused by a virus, so although antibiotics are commonly prescribed, they aren't actually helpful. It's best to reserve their use for when your child really needs them in order to preserve their effectiveness.

Germs

Teach basic hand washing. Keep a step stool in front of the sink to make it easier for your child to reach. Show him how to build up a lather and wash thoroughly, including the backs of his hands, his palms, and between his fingers. To make sure he sticks with the task long enough (about 20 seconds), sing through "Happy Birthday" twice together as he washes. Establish a habit of washing hands before meals and snacks, and after outside play.

Fingers out of the nose, please! Toddlers love to pick their noses, suck on their fingers, and explore objects orally. Unfortunately, these are opportune ways to contract and transmit germs. Discourage nose picking and other such habits when you see them, and keep disinfecting wipes handy.

Lifestyle

Encourage napping. Making sure your child gets enough sleep is one of the best ways to keep his immune system running efficiently. Toddlers need 12 to 14 hours of sleep in every 24-hour period.

Make active play a part of every day. Running, jumping, and other active play gets the heart pumping and the blood circulating, and has been shown to strengthen the immune system. Keeping active also lowers your child's risk of becoming overweight, which is itself hard on immune function. What's more, he'll enjoy it!