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Facts for Life


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Diarrhoea kills children by draining liquid from the body, which dehydrates the child. As soon as diarrhoea starts, it is essential to give the child extra fluids along with regular foods and fluids.

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A child has diarrhoea when she or he passes three or more watery stools a day. The more numerous the watery stools, the more dangerous the diarrhoea.

Some people think that drinking liquids makes diarrhoea worse. This is not true. A child with diarrhoea should be given drinks, including breastmilk, as often as possible. Drinking lots of liquids helps to replace the fluids lost during diarrhoea.

Recommended drinks for a child with diarrhoea include:

  • breastmilk (mothers should breastfeed more often than usual)
  • oral rehydration salts (ORS) mixed with the proper amount of clean water (refer to the box on ORS after Message 5)
  • soups
  • rice water
  • fresh fruit juices
  • coconut water
  • clean water from a safe source. If there is a possibility the water is not clean and safe to drink, it should be purified by boiling, filtering, adding chlorine or disinfecting with sunlight in accordance with information provided by a trained health worker or extension agent.

To avoid dehydration, breastfed children should breastfeed as often as possible. Children who are not breastfeeding should drink the following amounts of liquids every time a watery stool is passed:

  • for a child under the age of 2 years: between 1/4 and 1/2 of a large (250-millilitre) cup
  • for a child 2 years or older: between 1/2 and 1 whole large (250-millilitre) cup.

Drinks should be given from a clean cup. A feeding bottle should not be used. It is difficult to clean bottles completely, and unclean bottles can contain germs that cause diarrhoea.

If the child vomits, the caregiver should wait 10 minutes and then begin again to give the drink to the child slowly, small sips at a time.

The child should be given extra liquids in addition to regular foods and drinks until the diarrhoea has stopped.

Diarrhoea usually stops after three or four days. If it lasts longer, parents or other caregivers should seek help from a trained health worker.

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