I went through a stage where my children were constantly sick and down with some kind of bug. Initially I thought the causes for their ill health were environmental, and as an expat mother, I felt guilty for exposing my children to a foreign country that could potentially be harming their health. So, I did some research, spoke to several doctors and asked my friends from around the world about their experiences with childhood illnesses. I concluded that what we experienced was normal. They all suffered from the same kind of illnesses.
The simple fact is children under the age of six develop at least six to eight colds per year. On top of this, children are more susceptible to other common childhood illnesses such as coughs, viruses and stomach bugs because their immune systems are not yet developed. With three children close in age and attending preschool, the amount of illnesses going through our household is multiplied because they are constantly passing their bugs to each other, sometimes without recovering from the previous one!
With this information, I tried to focus my energy on preventative methods for keeping our family healthy and stopped trying to point the blame. Here are some tips on protecting your family from illness:
Most expat parents choose to vaccinate their children according to their home country’s schedule; however you may need to get additional vaccinations that are relevant to Indonesia only.
As parents we sometimes lose focus on our own health and forget our own vaccinations. It is recommended that you discuss with your doctor what vaccinations are required for everyone in your household. It’s also a good idea to discuss your travel plans with your doctor, in case you may require additional vaccinations for the country of destination.
The following are the recommended vaccinations for individuals who are residing in Indonesia long term:
- The annual flu shot, both southern and northern hemisphere, if you are travelling or exposed to those who travel to those areas.
- Hepatitis A, B
- Japanese Encephalitis
My family’s health extends to our household staff too. We provide our household staff with a monthly contribution towards the Government funded health insurance scheme JKN (Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional). We also allocate an additional month’s worth of salary for their yearly medical allowance. If a staff member needs to see a doctor or dentist outside of the insurance scheme, they can use money from their medical allowance. I try to ensure that my staff work reasonable hours and I allow them time to rest if they are unwell. This also means giving them vacation and time off work, even if they are adamant that they want to work extra hours for overtime.
I send my long-term staff members on yearly health checks and have reviewed their vaccinations ensuring that we are covered against the right diseases.
After an illness or dosage of antibiotics, I give my children probiotics and zinc for an immunity boost. They also take this during vacation for added protection (zinc should not be taken continuously). We’ve also started using local raw honey for healing and medicinal purposes (ensure it is from a trustworthy source).
We try to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet that is mostly vegetables and low in sugar and salt. The best way to do this is simply cooking your own food at home. One of the best outcomes from living in Indonesia is that I have eliminated most of the unhealthy foods that I previously consumed in my home country that were mainly convenient, processed, and packaged. This is purely because they are difficult to find here! This restriction has forced me to cook my own alternative or substitute with healthier options.
I buy fruit and vegetables from local street markets because I find they offer the freshest produce. I also purchase fresh coconut water from street vendors for our whole family to drink daily, instead of juices and soft drinks (Note: limit coconut water to only one glass or 200mls and less for young children due to the high potassium levels).
I check for MSG, which is hidden in most processed food such as chips, sauces and children’s snacks (In Indonesian MSG is called mononatrium glutamat, dinatrium inosinat and guanilat).
When my children were babies I avoided all baby food sold at supermarkets because the local brands usually contained sugar. The imported and organic ones weren’t fresh and sat on the shelves for months. I found that making my own baby food at home was the easiest option.
Exercise and time outdoors
I try to encourage lots of outdoor, active play with my children and expose them to the sun for a daily dose of vitamin D (building natural immunity). I have significantly cut down on their screen time because I found that it was too addictive and kept my children indoors, making them easily agitated. I observed that they wanted the iPad or TV when they were tired. So instead of screen time, I now start their bedtime early and engage in winding down activities such as reading or bathing.
I’ve also started to relax more as a parent by allowing my children to be bored and giving them the freedom to simply be. This means that they don’t need to be constantly engaged or placed into planned classes such as school holiday camps. Although it can be more stressful for me, it teaches them to slow down and enjoy their time together with creative play.
We purchased an air purifier for our kid’s room and started using essential oils. I strictly enforce good hygiene such as washing hands for everyone and have placed hand sanitisers in our car, kitchen and bathrooms.
The final thing that I have changed about our time here in Indonesia is trying to make sure that we take care of our emotional health. For us, we found that having short day trips or weekends away from the city revitalised us and helped our mental health. Fresh air is so refreshing!
Finally, find a good family doctor who is engaging and invested in your family’s health. It’s important to have someone who you trust to talk to and discuss your health concerns.