Caring for your sick child can be overwhelming and cause lots of worry and concern. Children are fragile in their healthy state, which makes a sick child much more fragile and as such, requires more care.
Poor appetite and feeding are some of the common symptoms sick children come down with which may make you as a mum and me as a pediatrician worried as to if your baby is getting enough nutrients.
I’ve met with lots of moms who brought their children to the hospital cause they weren’t eating as much as they used to. As overbearing as that may sound, I give those moms a thumbs up, cause as a mom you need to observe even the slightest change in your little one.
From my experience as a pediatrician, I can confidently say that with kids, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. So if you have been wondering how long can a child go without eating when sick I’m here to give you some peace of mind. In this article I’m going to get into:
- Is it normal for my sick toddler to eat less?
- How long can a sick toddler/baby go without eating or drinking?
- How to feed my sick child?
Table of Contents
Is it Normal for a Sick Child to Eat Less?
Yes, it is normal for sick toddlers and babies to eat less. This is due to the type of illness your child has. If she has tummy aches or frequent vomiting, chances are that she will probably not feel like eating anything. Certain infections too like the flu or stomach infections can reduce your child’s appetite and make them eat less than they usually do. It is important at this point to keep them hydrated and try offering them their favorite meals to stimulate their appetite.
Why is my Child Eating Less?
Children may experience a decline in their appetite for several reasons, some of which are normal while others are not.
The following are possible reasons your child is eating less:
Your child is a picky eater:
If your child is picky with meals, it’s possible she’s not eating because she doesn’t like what is being offered. This usually shows up within the first two years of your child’s life, and can be spotted by watching their eating patterns. Note the meals your child hurriedly and happily eats versus those meals your child eats sparingly or not at all. The quick fix to this is easy, give your child what they like and their appetite will return.
Your child’s growth has slowed down:
Your child may not be eating because their growth has slowed. This is normal in children after their first year of life. Before their first year, they eat a lot as they grow very rapidly and require enough energy to do so. After one year, growth begins to slow down a little, reducing their energy needs and consequently, their urge or desire to eat. Within this period, you will notice your child eating lesser portions, and it is no reason to panic. It just shows that your child is growing bigger.
This is not the case for every child as some children will still maintain their regular appetite and eat as much as they used to.
Improperly planned mealtimes:
As a pediatrician, I have noticed that children tend to do better with schedules and routines. Routines like bedtime, mealtime and play time help your child know what to expect and when to expect it. Making mealtimes more predictable for your child will make them anticipate the meals. However, an improperly planned or random meal time can depress your child’s appetite and cause them to eat less.
Your child is sick:
Children that are sick tend to have depressed appetites, and this is normal. Illnesses like infections can make your child feel under the weather and uninterested in eating. Sometimes, tummy aches can make your child feel uncomfortable while eating, causing them to eat less than usual. If your child is sick and won’t eat, you should make sure to keep them hydrated by giving them water or fruit juice and taking them to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Your child is distracted:
Your child may not be eating because they are distracted. Eating, as common as it may sound, requires attention and focus. If your child is distracted by tv or is being fed in a noisy and distracting environment, chances are that your child will eat less. Children are easily distracted by what they see and hear, which may make them to quickly lose interest in the food. To handle this, it is best to feed your child in an environment that is free from distractions to ensure your little one is only focused on eating.
How Long Can a Toddler or Baby go Without Eating or Drinking When Sick?
A toddler can last up to 2 to 3 days without food and water. This time duration can be stretched up to 4 days if a child does not eat but is well hydrated.
Babies aged 8 to 12 months can last up to 11 hours without eating or drinking, while younger infants less than 6 months can last for 6 hours or less.
Children are different from one another, and this time frame can be longer or shorter for some children. Research has also shown that an adult can stay up to two months without food but with water, and this period of survival is dependent on several environmental and health factors.
How do I Feed my Sick Child?
Feeding a sick child can be tricky as they tend to lose appetite and as a result eat less. Here are tips to feed your sick child:
Keep Them Hydrated
It is important that you give your sick child fluids to prevent them getting dehydrated which can further worsen their illness. You can give them plain water, juice or any fluid they can tolerate at this time.
Give your Child Fruits
Fruits are a great source of vitamins which your child needs to heal and get better. Also fruits such as watermelons, oranges and berries will help keep your child hydrated.
Do not Force Them to Eat
I understand that as a mum you are extremely worried that your child is eating less, but it is important that you do not force them to eat. You can encourage them to feed by preparing their favorite meals or giving them their favorite snack, and let them eat on their own terms when they show hunger cues. Force feeding will not help matters and will only make your baby more worked up and resistant to feeding.
Feed Them in a Comfortable and Correct Position
Sometime, sick children just need to feel more comfortable to eat better. Preparing all you need to feed your child before-hand is a great way to set the stage for your sick child to feel comfortable enough to eat.
When to call the doctor
It is important to know when to call a doctor if your child is sick and not eating. The following are signs to watch your for in a sick child who is eating less:
- Your child is losing weight: Weight loss in your child is a sign that your child is not getting enough nutrients to maintain a healthy weight. This can be detrimental to your little one and it is advisable that you see a pediatrician immediately.
- Your child refused to eat any meals for more than 24 hours.
- Your child rejects a particular food group: such as grains, dairy etc. This could signify an underlying medical condition or food intolerance.
- Your child’s skin or eyes are beginning to turn yellow or greenish in color. This is known as jaundice.
- Your child becomes more and more inactive and weak.
Taking care of a sick child requires a ton of attention and strength. Noticing something different in your child such as their reduced appetite despite your busy schedule shows you are very observant when it comes to your child, and in my opinion, that makes you an awesome mom! When it comes to kids, there’s no such thing as caring too much.
That said, it is completely normal for your child to lose appetite when they are sick, and it is saddled on you to encourage them to eat and help them stay healthy during this period. With adequate medical treatment and your support, your child is sure to make a full recovery.
Nancy M.D. is a health practitioner, pediatrician and medical writer, who is dedicated to fostering awareness, and lending a helping hand to humanity at large.