Feeding sick children during the COVID-19 pandemic

Tips on keeping children safe when sick

Mother and baby
UNICEF Laos/2012/SNoorani
11 May 2020

If a child becomes sick with symptoms of fever, cough, difficulty breathing that are typical of coronavirus or another type of illness such as diarrhoea, it is very important to seek medical care early, and follow instructions from a health care provider. Treatment will depend upon diagnosis and the symptoms experienced. In addition, it is important to protect babies and young children from losing weight when they become sick, whatever the cause.  

Here are some tips about feeding sick children during the COVID-19 crisis.

1. Breastfeed more frequently

Babies and young children need breast milk to help fight sickness, prevent weight loss, and recover more quickly. Breastfeeding also provides comfort to sick babies and children. If a child refuses to breastfeed because they have lost appetite or are feeling unwell, encourage them until they take the breast again. If they are too weak to suckle, express breast milk and feed with a clean cup or a cup and spoon. This will help you to keep up the milk supply and prevent later difficulties.

2. Continue to provide food and drink

Babies and young children need more food and liquids when they are sick to make up for nutrients that are lost as a result of fever or diarrhoea. Children need to be encouraged to continue to eat and drink as much as possible. This is true even when they have diarrhoea which gets temporarily worse after consuming food and drink. If your child’s appetite is decreased, encourage him or her to eat small frequent meals and snacks. Offer simple foods like porridge and avoid spicy or fatty foods. Children with diarrhoea lose a lot of fluids and health care providers may recommend administering low concentration oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc supplements, at a dosage of 20 mg per day for children older than six months or 10 mg per day in those younger than six months, for 10–14 days.

3. Add another meal during recovery

After your child has recovered, it is important to breastfeed frequently and actively encourage one additional meal of solid food each day for the following two weeks. This will help your child regain the weight that may have been lost as a result of sickness.