Feeding practices for infants and young children during and after common illness. Evidence from South Asia

Kajali Paintal and Víctor M. Aguayo

Global evidence shows that children’s growth deteriorates rapidly during/after illness if foods and feeding practices do not meet the additional nutrient requirements associated with illness/convalescence. To inform policies and programmes, we conducted a review of the literature published from 1990 to 2014 to document how children 0–23months old are fed during/after common childhood illnesses. The review indicates that infant and young child feeding (IYCF) during common childhood illnesses is far from optimal. When sick, most children continue to be breastfed, but few are breastfed more frequently, as recommended. Restriction/withdrawal of complementary foods during illness is frequent because of children’s anorexia (perceived/real), poor awareness of caregivers’ about the feeding needs of sick children, traditional beliefs/behaviours and/or suboptimal counselling and support by health workers. As a result, many children are fed lower quantities of complementary foods and/or are fed less frequently when they are sick. Mothers/caregivers often turn to family/community elders and traditional/non-qualified practitioners to seek advice on how to feed their sick children. Thus, traditional beliefs and behaviours guide the use of ‘special’ feeding practices, foods and diets for sick children. A significant proportion of mothers/caregivers turn to the primary health care system for support but receive little or no advice. Building the knowledge, skills and capacity of community health workers and primary health care practitioners to provide mothers/caregivers with accurate and timely information, counselling and support on IYCF during and after common childhood illnesses, combined with large-scale communication programmes to address traditional beliefs and norms that may be harmful, is an urgent priority to reduce the high burden of child stunting in South Asia.

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