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Facts for Life

Nutrition and growth

Supporting Information


During an illness, children need additional fluids and encouragement to eat regular meals, and breastfeeding infants need to breastfeed more often. After an illness, children need to be offered more food than usual to replenish the energy and nourishment lost due to the illness.

When children are sick, such as when they have diarrhoea, measles or pneumonia, their appetite decreases and their body uses food less effectively. If the child is sick several times a year, his or her growth will slow or stop.

It is very important to encourage a sick child to eat. This can be difficult, as children who are ill may not be hungry. The parent or other caregiver should keep offering foods the child likes, a little at a time and as often as possible. Extra breastfeeding is especially important since it can provide nutrients required for recovery from infections.

It is essential to encourage a sick child to drink as often as possible. Dehydration (lack of fluids in the body) is a serious problem for children with diarrhoea. Drinking plenty of liquids will help prevent dehydration. When a child has diarrhoea, giving him or her oral rehydration salts (ORS) dissolved in clean water, along with foods and liquids, can help prevent dehydration. Giving the child a zinc supplement every day for 10–14 days can reduce the severity of the diarrhoea. The child is not fully recovered from an illness until he or she weighs about as much as when the illness began.

A child can die from persistent diarrhoea if it is not treated quickly. If diarrhoea and poor appetite persist for more than a few days, the mother, father or other caregiver needs to consult a trained health worker.

(Refer to the Diarrhoea chapter for more information.)