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Facts for Life

Diarrhoea

Supporting Information

3.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding after six months can reduce the risks associated with diarrhoea. Immunization against rotavirus (where recommended and available) reduces deaths from diarrhoea caused by this virus. Vitamin A and zinc supplementation can reduce the risk of diarrhoea.

Breastmilk is the best source of liquid and food for a young child with diarrhoea. It is nutritious and clean and helps fight illness and infections. An infant who is fed only breastmilk in her or his first six months of life is less likely to get diarrhoea during this time.

Breastmilk prevents dehydration and malnutrition and helps replace lost fluids. Mothers are sometimes advised to give less breastmilk if a child has diarrhoea. This advice is wrong. Mothers should breastfeed more often than usual when the child has diarrhoea. Fathers should support mothers who are breastfeeding by caring for the sick child and other children in the family, and by helping with household tasks.

Rotavirus causes diarrhoea. Children should be immunized against rotavirus in countries that offer this vaccination.

Vitamin A supplementation, particularly in areas deficient in vitamin A, is an important measure to reduce the risk of diarrhoea. Foods that contain vitamin A include breastmilk, liver, fish, dairy products, orange or yellow fruits and vegetables, and green leafy vegetables.

Including zinc as part of the treatment for diarrhoea for 10–14 days helps to reduce its severity and duration, and also protects the child from future diarrhoea episodes for up to two months. Children over 6 months of age can take 20 milligrams per day of zinc (tablet or syrup). For children under 6 months, 10 milligrams per day (tablet or syrup) is an appropriate amount.

The trained health worker should show the mother, father or other caregiver how to give the child a zinc tablet by dissolving it in a small amount of expressed breastmilk, ORS or clean water in a small cup or spoon. If the child is too young for a tablet, zinc syrup can be used.