Twenty seven year old Aashima goes blank on what to feed her one-year old baby Aryan, when he suffers from diarrhoea. Like all new parents, she too gets confused with all types of medical as well as traditional advice on what to feed and what not to feed her baby during a diarrhoeal episode. Moreover, his constant crying and ill-health adds to her frustration.
Almost all new mothers can relate to this complicated situation. In many instances, misconceptions prevail among the general population on how to effectively manage this disease.
A child suffering from a diarrhoeal episode often loses weight and can rapidly become malnourished. Since babies cannot explain how they feel after having a specific food, new parents need to investigate the effect of a food by focussing on the baby’s bowel movement, diet and sleep patterns.
However, if bowel movements suddenly become much looser or more watery and frequent, it may be diarrhoea. A diarrhoeal condition in babies can be caused by a number of things, ranging from a change in diet to an intestinal infection.
Overcome the myth
The most common misconception and the immediate reaction by parents when their child is suffering from a diarrhoeal episode, is to refrain from feeding the baby.
This practice, however, is not the most appropriate. For those babies being breastfed, don’t stop breast-feeding the baby because the child has diarrhoea.
For those children consuming solid foods, diet during recovery should be watched very closely and must be protein and energy rich to replenish the loss of nutrients during the diarrhoeal episode.
Dietary management is the key
Contrary to common belief, recovery from diarrhoea can be quicker. Infact, parents can ensure it with a proper diet comprising the right kind of fluids and foods.
It is essential for mothers to continue nursing their infants as often as the baby desires, both, during diarrhoea and in the recovery phase. In situations where the child is at least 6 months of age or is already feeding on semi-solid foods, cereals and vegetables can prove to be beneficial. Studies show that using rice-based foods play an essential role in the recovery from diarrhoea.
A recent international study published in The Lancet on the impact and most common causes of diarrhoeal diseases showed that over 100,000 children below the age of 11 months die of diarrhoea in India.
Persistent and chronic Diarrhoeal diseases remain a major cause of malnutrition in children, which in turn leads to a vicious cycle affecting their growth. The challenge, thus, is to convert the negative vicious cycle to a virtuous cycle, enabled through right feeding practices.
Offering the right foods and fluids helps in recovery
Fluids need to be replenished. Diet during diarrhoea should be rich in cereals or other food staples, mixed with pulses, legumes and vegetables.
Rice-based cereals or Khichdi made from rice and lentils has been found to be effective in replenishing energy stores by supplying essential nutrients. Unfortunately, mothers aren’t always sure of what to feed their babies and how much.
Feeding the wrong foods can irritate the babies’ gut and may even worsen the symptoms. Similarly, babies with diarrhoea need more fluids than usual to replenish the lost stores.
Dehydration can be prevented if suitable fluids like ORS, homemade soups made from boiling ground or powdered cereals are given in adequate quantities soon after the onset of diarrhoea.
Frequent feeding in small quantities is a must
“It is important to give extra meals during recovery to speed up the recuperation process.
Frequent, small meals are well tolerated and are definitely better than less frequent, large meals. Give the child as much food as it accepts every 3-4 hours (6 times a day).
The same energy-rich foods can be continued until 3-4 weeks after the diarrhoea clears up. Research shows about 60-80 per cent of food is absorbed even during acute diarrhoea whereas absorption is near normal during recovery.
Therefore, it is vital to continue feeding to prevent the further onset of malnutrition”, Dr PP Maiya, Consultant Pediatrician told City Express.
Continued feeding also speeds up the recovery of normal intestinal function, including the ability of the gut to digest and absorb various nutrients unlike in cases where food intake of children is restricted.
Such children are usually prone to lose weight, have prolonged diarrhoea and encounter slow recovery of intestinal function. They are also more likely to develop persistent diarrhoea.
The final word
It is important to ensure that diet during recovery is protein and energy-rich that aids in replenishing the loss of nutrients during the diarrhoeal episode.
An adequate diet with the right foods and fluids can help in effectively combating this disease.
Armed with this life-saving advice, mothers can manage this nerve-wrecking period with utmost confidence knowing that they are providing the best care for their babies.