Feeding a sick baby

Whether she has a tummy bug or a cold, what and when should your baby eat?

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Coughs, colds and tummy bugs are all too common in your baby’s first couple of years, as she builds her immunity to viruses. Being unwell is likely to affect her appetite, so what can you do to help?

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Coughs and colds

It’s hard for your baby to chew and swallow if she’s stuffed up, and her sense of taste may be dulled too, so…

  • Clear her nose with saline drops or a suction device before a meal
  • Offer food little and often, but never forcing it
  • Make sure she has plenty to drink: offer water or very diluted fruit juice, as well as regular breast- or bottlefeeds
  • Give infant paracetamol (suitable for babies over three months) to bring her temperature down before meals: she’s unlikely to eat if she has a fever.
  • Avoid dairy produce (such as yoghurt, cheese and milky sauces – breastmilk and formula are okay), as it can increase mucus
  • Try including onions and garlic – renowned for their antiviral properties – in her meals, as well as foods that are rich in vitamin C, like citrus fruit, green leafy veg and tomatoes.

Tummy bugs

If your baby has sickness and diarrhoea, concentrate on keeping her fluid intake up, rather than worrying about solid foods.

  • If she’s breastfed, feed on demand, as often as she wants
  • If she has formula, give normal feeds plus extra clear fluids, such as cooled boiled water or very dilute fruit juice
  • Don’t force your baby to eat solids
  • If she wants to eat, offer small quantities of bland foods: some doctors recommend a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apples, toast) for 24 to 48 hours, as these foods are gentle on the stomach.

When to worry

It’s normal for babies to go off their food when they’re unwell. However, consult your doctor if she shows signs of dehydration, such as: 

  • Fewer or no wet nappies
  • Drowsiness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Six or more episodes of diarrhoea in 24 hours
  • Three or more vomiting episodes in 24 hours

After illness

It often takes babies a while to regain their appetite for solids after an illness. The key is to persevere calmly. Give small quantities at mealtimes, and top up with healthy snacks in between. Keep her fluids up, and offer meals you know she enjoys: now’s not the time to introduce adventurous new recipes.

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If you’re concerned, your GP or health visitor may recommend a vitamin supplement or tonic to boost your baby’s nutritional intake. But remember that for the first 12 months, she’ll be getting most of her nutrition from milk feeds.

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