Just feed your baby right

Just feed your baby right

The best way to care for your baby when (s)he is suffering from diarrhoea is to simply feed the right food in the right quantities and at the right time, advises Dr PP Maiya.

Most new parents get confused with all types of medical as well as traditional advice on what to feed and what not to feed their baby during a diarrhoeal episode. A child suffering from a diarrhoeal episode often loses weight and can rapidly become malnourished.

How to find out

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 good for the baby. Don't stop breastfeeding the baby when (s)he is suffering from 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 concerns

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 in what quantities. Feeding the wrong foods can irritate the babies’ gut and may even worsen the symptoms. Dehydration can be reduced drastically, 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.

Small and frequent feeds

It is desirable and important at the same time 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 (s)he 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.

During recovery

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. 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 weightloss, prolonged diarrhoea, and slow recovery of intestinal function. They are also more likely to develop persistent diarrhoea.

Simply giving the right foods and fluids in the right quantities and at the right times can help in quick recovery. Armed with this advice, mothers can manage the nerve-wracking period with utmost confidence knowing that they are providing the best care for their babies.

(The writer is a consultant pediatrician)

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