By Annalies Corse
Tummy bug season
In Australia, the end of winter and the start of spring herald the dreaded gastroenteritis or ‘tummy bug’ season. Lasting until early summer, tummy bugs are an all too common infection for families with young children. Many parents will tell of family holidays being plagued by diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, with whole families often being taken down by these microscopic misery makers.
While adults tend to cope relatively well with a bout of gastroenteritis, it can be very distressing to watch your child having episodes of diarrhoea and vomiting, especially as these infections tend to last for several days. So, what can you do to help your children, and do kids need special foods during tummy bug season?
Thankfully, the recommendations for what kids should be eating during a tummy bug season are no different to what they should generally be eating to keep their immune systems robust and healthy. Whole, unprocessed foods as close to their natural state as possible are best for building immunity. Think plenty of vegetables and fruits, fish, red and white meats, some nuts and seeds and good hydration levels. Avoiding processed sugars as staples in their diets is essential for strong immune system function. Try introducing fermented vegetables dishes such as sauerkraut or Kim chi. These contain abundant beneficial bacteria, and are powerful probiotic foods. The bacteria ingested in these foods will colonise and reside in the digestive tract, providing an army of microbes capable of defending against pathogenic, disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Prebiotic based foods assist in keeping our good gut bugs alive and healthy, so include plenty of fibre in your kids diet in the form of legumes, asparagus, sprouts, leeks, onions and whole grains as some examples
In addition to the foundation of a nutritious diet, always consider the individual needs of your kids. We are all unique, and kids with specific health issues may need extra TLC to keep their immunity strong and tummy bugs away. If your child has a lot of allergies, asthma, diabetes or a chronic illness, then making sure these conditions are correctly managed will have them well placed to fight tummy bug infections that we are all exposed to over the warmer months.
If your children do succumb to a bout of gastroenteritis, there are foods to consider that will support their health as they fight the infection, as well as easing some of the distressing symptoms associated with the infection. Here are some specific food and fluid considerations for kids of all ages.
What about babies?
Diarrhoea and vomiting in young babies is always more concerning than older children. Babies can become dehydrated very rapidly, leading to altered electrolyte balance, and abnormal blood chemistry. You will need to contact your doctor for advice, but in general free access to breastfeeds and formula (if baby has these) is essential. If baby is on formula, you may need to switch to a lactose free formula (under doctors advice) for a little while. Gastroenteritis is notorious for making digestion of lactose difficult in babies and young kids, so its best avoided for a couple of weeks. Most Paediatricians recommend that babies on solids reduce dairy for 10-14 days after a bout of gastroenteritis, to allow their digestive system time to recover. Older babies on solids probably wont want much to eat, but focus on bland, easily digested foods such as pear, rice, apple or vegetable broths. Slow cooking and cooked foods (including fruits) are ideal, as cooking softens the complex structure of foods, making then much easier to digest.
For toddlers, the advice is very similar to babies, though many do not have breastfeeds or formula anymore. This can make getting fluids in a little more difficult. Commercially available oral rehydration treatments are safe, however you must seek medical advice if your child cannot tolerate them. Small, frequent volumes of these solutions are much better tolerated than allowing your kids free access to large amounts in one go. Ice blocks based on fruits, shaved ice blocks, smoothies and juices can be good, but overly tart or acidic fruits are best avoided, such as citrus. Soup is another good choice, as kids will receive a decent dose of fluid with their food. Again, well cooked fruits and vegetables are digested very easily. Some parents like to give coconut water. There is nothing wrong with this, as coconut water contains good levels of electrolytes as well as water. Be guided by your child, their appetite will return. It’s also a time for encouraging grazing, whilst still following their usual mealtime routine.
Older children will be more forthright in stating what they want to eat when unwell, and can generally tolerate dairy and lactose during a tummy bug much more than infants. The need to avoid dairy is not as important in older children. Unsweetened, plain yoghurt is an additional food to consider for older children, as is kefir, another fermented dairy food. If your health professional has advised the use of probiotic supplementation, these can easily be incorporated into foods when administered in powder form. As a word of advice, probiotics can be given to babies, right through to older kids. Make sure you seek advice from a health professional qualified to prescribe them, such as a pharmacist, naturopath, doctor or nutritionist. Probiotics are not harmful, but you want them to work! They can ease the symptoms of diarrhoea, gas, and pain. There are many formulas and strains available, so it’s best to seek professional advice and be prescribed the correct formulation for your baby or child.
- Health Direct Australia. Available at: http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/diarrhoea-and-vomiting-in-children
- The Royal Children’s Hospital. Melbourne. Clinical Resources, Paediatric Handbook. Available at: http://www.rch.org.au/rch/health-professionals/
Rose is a Fit Busy Mum of 3 fit kids. She aims to empower mums who are time poor. She acknowledges that mums are ‘busy’ but tries to inspire them to regain their fitness through simple everyday habits that she promotes through her book ‘The Fit Busy Mum: Seven habits for success’.