There have been quite a few gastro outbreaks in Adelaide childcare centers recently, with huge spikes in cases being recorded last month. If you have a little one in childcare, chances are you’ve had to nurse them through a tummy bug at some stage.
Gastro infections can cause intense symptoms that can really take a lot out of little bodies. In a perfect world, we can prevent children from getting gastro in the first place. If you have ever stepped foot into a childcare center though, you’re probably more than aware of how difficult it actually is to minimize the spread of an infectious disease.
From a naturopath’s perspective, there are steps can we take to support our kids when the dreaded tummy bug hits as well as reducing their chances of catching it in the first place.
3 key priorities when treating gastroenteritis;
- Reduce the severity of symptoms – vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, stomach pain & fever.
- Decrease the duration of infection, which can last for up to 10 days.
- Optimize recovery, to reduce the likelihood of future infection.
A mix of home remedies, diet strategies and naturopathic medicines are your best defense for fighting off bugs and reducing symptoms, while also helping to heal little tummies post-infection.
Frequent watery bowel motions, vomiting and reduced intake of food and liquid can easily lead to a loss of fluids.
- If breastfeeding, your normal routine is likely to change.
Babies and toddlers feeding more frequently while symptomatic increases their fluid intake and supports their immune systems in fighting infections. Formula fed babies are likely to need an increase in bottles, both for comfort and to make up for fluid loss.
- Offer clear fluids, and mix things up a bit. Different water bottles or cups keep things interesting for fussy toddlers. Some great options include bone broth, coconut water, kombucha or cooled chamomile tea. Offer fluids after every vomit or bout of diarrhoea. Smaller sips through pretty straws, or offer colourful spoons to feed small amounts of liquids are simple ideas to improve hydration.
- Homemade ice blocks are great combination of soothing and treat. Add coconut water with a little sugar free juice or kombucha, remembering to mix things up so there’s different flavour options on offer throughout the day.
Most kids will show very little interest in food while they’re symptomatic, as they recover and interest in food returns, we aim for a combination of easy to digest and nutrient dense options.
- Continue to offer foods during the acute stage of infection, but don’t be surprised if their intake is reduced. Apple slices or frozen fruits such as rock melon, watermelon and grapes are cooling and soothing for inflamed tummies and sore throats.
- Slow cooked and roasted foods are easy for a sensitive tummy to digest, while offering more nutritional value than dry toast or crackers. After a few days with limited nutrient intake, we want to focus on nutrients that support the immune and gastrointestinal system through the final stages of illness and into recovery. Keep it simple (at this point you’ve probably been up for a few nights mopping up vomit, I don’t want to add more things to your ‘to do’ list), and throw a few things into the slow cooker or chop up some veggies and bake them in the oven. Steaming and mashing veggies such as pumpkin, sweet potato, cauliflower and broccoli is another quick and easy option.
- Bananas with a green tinge to their skin are great for reducing the severity of diarrhoea, as they contain more resistant starch and prebiotic fiber than yellow bananas. The resistant starch and prebiotic fiber help the good tummy bugs to repopulate and recover from gasto infections. The more good tummy bugs we have, the less space there is available for the bad ones to move in!
Probiotic supplementation helps to put the good gut bugs back in, which competes for space with the bad bugs. Different probiotic strains offer different health benefits, some strains increase immune function and reduce the symptoms of diarrhoea while others actually have a laxative effect. For gasto infections, the main two we’re looking for are Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) and Saccharomyces boulardii (SB). LGG and SB supplementation work to reduce the severity and duration of diarrhoea.
Herbal medicines such as cinnamon, raspberry leaf, slippery elm, calendula, marshmallow root, chamomile and lemon balm can help to soothe the lining of an inflamed digestive tract, relax muscular constriction to reduce digestive discomfort, and reduce the severity of diarrhoea and vomiting. These are my most often prescribed remedies in clinic for acute stages of gasto infection. Herbal teas made at home can provide similar benefits.
Nutritional supplements help to repair and strengthen the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. There are two things to keep in mind, we want to soothe and heal as well as maintain digestive function. Glutamine and zinc nourish and protect the gastric mucosa which can stop bad bugs from sticking to the gut wall, while also reducing tummy pain and inflammation.
When to seek help
Most children will recover at home from gastroenteritis with 4-6 days, however if symptoms aren’t improving and you’re concerned get in touch with your GP or pediatrician.
Warning signs to look out for can include:
- Persistent vomiting, unable to keep fluids down
- Signs of dehydration (dry mouth, urination has decreased or stopped, sunken eyes)
- More than 8 bowel motions per day
- Increasing or severe abdominal pain
- Blood in stool
This post was written by our amazing Children’s Health Naturopath, Ashlee Yates.
If you would like more help supporting your little ones through gastro and preventing future infections, you can book a consultation with our children’s health Naturopath here.