How to deal with gastrointestinal infections in children?
Gastrointestinal infections or gastroenteritis is a common health condition faced by kids between the ages of 1 and 5. Although it is an illness that most frequently resolves quickly, it can be frightening, not to mention confusing, for parents, especially since they cannot understand how to care for their sick kid. Therefore, as parents, you need to understand the signs and ways to manage these infections.
Stomach infection in kids is not new. Often referred to as 'stomach flu', it is an illness of the digestive or gastrointestinal tract; symptoms of which are most commonly diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain. In severe improperly managed cases, it might result in dehydration, because the body loses a lot of fluids through vomiting and diarrhoea. Gastrointestinal infections are mainly caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses, and other disease-causing microbes. Starting from infancy, stomach infections can occur from time to time. In small children, gastroenteritis is most commonly caused due to rotaviral infection.
Kids are more prone to infections as their immune system is still naïve and not completely developed. Added to this, they are exposed to disease causing microbes as they tend to skip basic hygiene routines like washing hands before eating or covering their mouths while sneezing and coughing. Moreover, they are exposed to unhygienic or unclean surroundings while in school or while they are playing outside. Children often get infected when they:
- Eat contaminated foods, especially raw and uncooked eggs, and meats or shellfish.
- Drink contaminated water from open sources like taps, wells and such.
- Play with street animals that may carry bacteria.
- Drink juices made with unclean water or milk that is unpasteurized.
- Eat food that is left in the open for long hours, like buffet foods, and also unrefrigerated foods. Bacteria tend to grow on these easily.
Signs to watch out for:
Keep an eye on the signs below to find out if your child has gastroenteritis:
- Fever, vomiting or diarrhoea
- Your child seems unusually cranky
- A stomach ache that comes and goes
- Reduced appetite
- Noticeable changes in the stool
- Extreme tiredness
The major concern is that children suffering from this infection may get dehydrated because of the loss of fluid from the body due to vomiting and/or diarrhoea. So, look for signs which might indicate immediate medical attention like high fever, less urination, extreme thirst, weakness and even fainting, dry mouth, or cold hands and feet
What can you do to make your child feel better?
Your paediatrician might have prescribed some medicines to manage vomiting or stomach pain. Apart from giving these to your child, the best thing is to give fluids, very slowly and every few minutes. Drinking fluids will help him or her feel better and avoid dehydration. Paediatricians suggest the following in such cases:
- Keep giving maintenance fluid - this is the amount of fluid that a child drinks when he is well, in a day.
- Replacement fluid – this means replacing the amount of fluid that he or she is losing through vomiting or diarrhoea.
Dietary guidelines if a child is regularly suffering from gastrointestinal infections
Feeding may be a challenge in a child suffering from gastrointestinal infection due to loss of appetite or vomiting. However, it is important to remember that eating properly and the right kinds of foods can help the inner linings of the intestine to heal quickly. It has been observed that avoiding eating can prolong diarrhoea.
Giving the child plenty of liquids is the most important thing that you can do to keep your child from getting dehydrated and helping recovery. Plenty of plain water, coconut water, thin buttermilk or Oral Rehydration fluids should be given to a child. Milk might not be tolerated by all children hence you might want to give it a miss. You can give probiotic rich curd instead. If your child suffers from vomiting, giving a spoonful of liquid every 4-5 minutes may help.
If you child is able to keep down liquids then try small quantities of foods without the addition of spices at first. Avoiding foods high in fibre will help the child tolerate solids better. Idli, moong dal khichdi, curd rice, oats porridge made in water or buttermilk, soups made of dal and vegetables, lean meats prepared with less oil or fat, low-fat cooked fish, boiled eggs, bananas, cooked vegetables like gourds, potato, pumpkin, bread and yogurt are some good options. You can gradually increase the quantity of food the child is given as tolerance to solids increases.
Avoid giving your child greasy fried foods or spicy foods. Dairy foods like cheese, paneer, ice creams and sugary foods like cakes, candies and lollipops are best avoided during gastroenteritis.
Try this healthy recipe for kids:
This pumpkin khichdi is just the right type of food that you can serve as a stomach infection remedy for your kid. Easy to cook and super healthy, it is made with regular rice, red pumpkin, and lentils.
- Rice - ¾ cup
- Moong Dal - ¼ cup
- Onion, chopped - 1/2
- Garlic, chopped - 1 or 2
- Turmeric powder - ⅛ tsp
- Salt - as required
- Red pumpkin - 1 cup small cubes
- Water - 3 cups
- Ghee - 2 Tsp
- Wash the rice and moong dal and soak these together in warm water for about 20 minutes.
- Heat a pressure cooker with a tsp of ghee and add the chopped garlic to it.
- Then add chopped onions. Sauté them nicely until transparent.
- After the onions become transparent, add the red pumpkin, turmeric powder and salt.
- Then add soaked rice and toor dal and mix well together by giving it a quick stir.
- Add water and mix well. Close the lid of the pressure cooker and cook everything on a medium flame till you hear three to four whistles. Once the pressure releases, open the cooker, mash it all well with a masher until soft.
- Serve fresh and hot.