Hydration and children
The importance of water in the diet
Being hydrated is important for so many reasons and becoming dehydrated can not only decrease energy levels but also concentration which can affect learning and overall wellbeing. Children need to learn to recognise the symptoms of thirst, as this is not a given behaviour. 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. To ensure that enough water is drunk, it is important that you act as a role model, so apart from cups of tea, make sure that water is the only drink that you drink when around the children.
Knowing when to give children drinks is important and there are no current guidelines as to how much water should be drunk. 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. As a rough guide 6 – 8 glasses should be drunk a day. This may seem like a lot, but remember that foods, especially fruit and vegetables contain water which adds to the daily amounts.
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 you are getting dehydrated. Children have not learnt behaviour and as such can go for long periods without drinking.
Young children and babies need more water than adults. 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 relative to their body size with which to lose water, so on a hot day when we are all maintaining our body temperature by losing water (evaporation) through the skin in order to cool the body, children are losing considerably more. It is imperative that on hot days, children are regularly offered water to drink.
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 so when a baby cries try offering them water if the pacifiers are not working.
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. The vitamin C in fruit juice can help iron in food be absorbed so encourage the main meal to be drunk with a glass of fruit juice.
Be careful of giving too much fluid, especially full fat milk. Not only is full fat milk full of saturated fat, which adds to weight gain, 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.