Foods to Improve Immune System in Babies: Key Nutrients

Foods to Improve Immune System in Babies: Key Nutrients

In the beginning of a child’s life, particularly the first 1000 days, the right nourishment plays a vital role in the development of the child’s immune system. Nutrition in this special time affects resilience and fights off illness and even health in later life.

The baby’s immunity starts developing even before birth right within the mother’s womb. During pregnancy, the child’s immunity totally depends on the mother’s immune environment inside her body. There is an exchange going on as the mother feeds the unborn child through the placenta. When the time for birthing comes, and the baby goes to the outside world he receives an "immune shot" antibodies from his mom as he goes through the vaginal canal.  These antibodies would be the child’s first line of defense for the child’s first few months after birth and would protect from infections in his surroundings until his little body starts developing his immunity.

Outside the womb, another exchange of antibodies would take place in the form of breastfeeding. Your baby would also benefit from this first form of nutrition due to the release of myriads of antibodies during the first 6 months until approximately 2 years of age. However undesired, the child might still catch mild forms of illnesses and this will then trigger the release of immune responses including antibodies that fights off on becoming severe. 

Breastfeeding: The first line of nutrition

Breastfeeding is the best way to nourish your baby! Feeding your baby with breastmilk makes the most complete nutrition in the beginning of their life. It doesn’t only contain carbohydrates, protein and fats but also protective properties such as antibodies and prebiotics that confer protection from infectious diseases in early childhood and lower the risk for potentially acquiring chronic illness later in life such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  

It is recommended to breastfeed exclusively from birth to 6 months and with weaning foods until 2 years, as long as both mother and baby are happy with that.. The nutrient composition of the breast milk is affected by the mother’s nutrition as well so it is recommended for the lactating mom to be adequately nourished and well hydrated. 

After 6 months, when the bub is now ready to start solid foods, you may try to introduce pureed solids considering a variety of food items that are rich in immune boosting nutrients. 

Here are some immune boosting nutrients that we must incorporate in the daily diet:

Let’s start off with minerals such as Zinc and Iron.


Zinc is regarded as one of the minerals supporting strong immunity even as we age. It is mostly found in meats, fish and poultry as well as enriched cereal. Even as being a trace mineral, it plays a huge role to carry out enzymatic chemical reactions. Playing a lead role in the DNA synthesis, cell growth, protein makeup, wound healing and immune support, low levels of zinc may put our bodies at risk of different types of infections. 

Adequate amounts of this nutrient is essential in times of rapid growth on our young ones. 

Since zinc is also involved in taste formations, low levels of zinc may be linked to low appetite which is crucial for a child's growth in weight and height.

The adequate intake for babies 0-6 months is 2 mg/ day.


Iron as a mineral works to maintain healthy blood. It is one of the main components of hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein that helps distribute oxygen from the lungs to all of the parts in the body.

Low iron levels generally lead to fatigue, which would be a potential risk of a weakened immune system. Iron deficiency affects all age groups and is most important in infancy, when iron deficiency may include delayed psychomotor development in infants, impaired cognitive function, impaired immunity and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Keeping adequate intake of iron can also support healthy brain development, normal function of various cells and hormones for the young ones. 

Iron in foods can come in two general forms - as haem or non-haem iron. Iron from animal food sources such as meat, fish and poultry may be either haem or non-haem whereas the iron in plant sources such grains and vegetables is non-haem. The haem form is more bioavailable to humans than the non-haem.

The adequate intake for babies aged 0-6 is 0.2 mg/ day and from 6-12 months it is 11 ng/ day.

Now, let’s now talk about Vitamins!


Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin which helps maintain normal reproduction, vision and immune function.

Rich sources of Vitamin A can be found in meat, poultry, eggs, leafy green vegetables, orange or yellow vegetables, legumes and fruit.

Low vitamin A levels could result in deficiency which might get a risk of altered immune response which could potentially lead to a range of infections. 

Vitamin B

B Vitamins essentially support our body for it’s vital role in energy metabolism. Without B Vitamins we will feel very weak, sluggish and even mentally tired. It even plays a big role in the body’s antiviral defense and intestinal immune regulations

Rich sources of B vitamins would typically include:

  • Thiamin – Vitamin B1: Wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes, nuts, seed
  • Riboflavin – Vitamin B2: Dairy, wholegrain breads and cereals, leafy green vegetables and meat
  • Niacin – Vitamin B3: Meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, wholegrain breads and cereals
  • Pantothenic acid – Vitamin B5: Meat, dairy, eggs and legumes
  • Pyridoxine – Vitamin B6: Wholegrain breads and cereals, green leafy vegetables, legumes, meat and poultry
  • Biotin – Vitamin B7: Egg yolks, cauliflower, chicken and peanuts
  • Folate – Vitamin B9: Non-organic bread, green leafy vegetables, legumes, seeds, eggs
  • Cobalamin – Vitamin B12: Meat, dairy and eggs

Vitamin D

While vitamin D is commonly known in supporting bone health, it also plays partly on supporting the body’s antiviral defense system. It enhances the immunity of the cells and can therefore reduce the risk of infections. 

As we know that the sun is the best source of vitamin D, we could support this in our daily diet by consuming eggs, fish and fortified milk drinks. Other rich sources could also include salmon, tuna and mackerel.


The foundation of a robust immune system in babies is laid through meticulous nutritional choices in their earliest days. Breastmilk serves as the initial cornerstone, imparting essential antibodies and prebiotics that guard against early childhood diseases and establish a precedent for long-term health. As infants graduate to solid foods, the integration of key nutrients like zinc and iron, alongside a spectrum of vitamins, becomes critical. These nutrients bolster immune responses, support growth, and enhance cognitive development. Ensuring a diet rich in these elements is a proactive investment in a child’s health, safeguarding their journey from the womb through their formative years.

For parents exploring iron-fortified, plant-based formula options for their babies, it is worth checking out the Else Nutrition Plant-Based Follow-On Formula. This product offers a fortified solution to meet the nutritional needs of infants.

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