The importance of water in a child’s diet
It is really important that children are given enough water to drink and learn to recognise the symptoms of thirst. It is important the carer who is responsible for the child makes fluids available (preferably water) and is aware of situations when fluids should be increased.
Young children and babies need more water than adults, primarily as their bodies are made up of 75% water (which is over 25% greater than adults). Not only do babies and young children have more water in their bodies to be maintained, they also do a very good job at getting rid of the water that they have. One such way is by having the ability to breathe faster than adults and as such lose more water through respiration.
Children have a greater surface area of skin in which to lose water, so on a hot day when we are all maintaining our body temperature by losing water through the skin (evaporation) in order to cool the body, children are losing considerably more. In this instance it is imperative that on hot days, children are regularly offered water to drink.
Knowing when to give children drinks is important.
It is important that as carers you recognise the signs of when to give your charges more fluids. Examples are when a child has loose stools and is then losing more water or when they have a high temperature.
It is vital that as the carer you are offering fluids, preferably water. Children do not think to drink and therefore need to be encouraged. The need to drink and understand when you are thirsty is a learnt behaviour; a dry mouth indicates that a drink is needed and that we are getting dehydrated. Children do not have this learnt behaviour and as such can go for long periods without drinking.
Babies especially if they are breast fed will be getting all the fluid they need. Bottle fed babies, will be getting fluid, but may need additional cooled boiled water.
When early weaning is started, the amount of water being ingested will increase due to the foods being offered, as this is will be fruit and vegetables which are full of water.
As the child gets older and more complex foods are eaten such as protein and carbohydrates then less water will be ingested. It is important at this stage that water is provided at meal times in cup.
Fizzy drinks and fruit juice should be offered in moderation as they contain extra calories which are not needed and contribute to weight gain, as well as being acidic and may cause dental caries. A glass of fruit juice, accounts for one of your ‘5 a day’, however no more than this should be drunk unless it is watered down as each 150ml glass contains 3 teaspoons of sugar.
Be careful of giving too much fluid, especially milk. Not only is milk (full fat) full of saturated fat, which adds to weight gain, but it also reduces iron absorption. Too much milk and water, primarily milk, fills the child up so that a proper meal is not eaten and they are then not eating a diet full of the necessary nutrients. Milk however is an important drink for children providing vitamins and calcium that are vital to strong bones and teeth.