Exclusive breastfeeding and diarrhoea treatment with ORS and Zinc

Should I treat my child with ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts) and Zinc while exclusively breastfeeding?

Mother at KagoroThe current recommendation is that babies should be exclusively breast-fed until 6 months of age and a healthy baby being nursed by a healthy mother needs nothing else not even water. Breast milk is 88% water and extra water is not needed by a baby. Giving a baby extra water is not necessary and will increase the likelihood of the baby contracting a water bourne disease.

So what do you do when a child under 6 months, who is being exclusively breastfed gets diarrhoea? Should you give ORS and Zinc or not?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states:

Infants should be exclusively breastfed – i.e. receive only breast milk – for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. “Exclusive breastfeeding” is defined as giving no other food or drink – not even water – except breast milk. It does, however, allow the infant to receive oral rehydration salts (ORS), drops and syrups (vitamins, minerals and medicines). Breast milk is the ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; breastfeeding is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers.
Source: who.int

The first thing to do when diarrhoea strikes is to continue breastfeeding the child. Then promptly seek help from a qualified health person if the baby stops breastfeeding or shows any of the following danger signs:

  • fever or shallow breathing
  • skin does not do back when pinched (dehydration)
  • diarrhoea is bloody
  • more than 3 watery stools in one hour
  • the child keeps vomiting or is not breastfeeding
  • the child has no energy, is lethargic or unconscious

ORS (oral rehydration solutions) and Zinc may be medically indicated, but when these are needed, good hygiene using clean, safe water is critical.

Other sources:

kellymom.com under ‘Vomitting and diarrhoea’