"My child is sick and has absolutely no appetite. How can I encourage her to eat?"
It's normal for a child who's under the weather to lose her appetite (along with her sunny disposition). And it's not always a bad thing. For instance, if what's ailing her are tummy troubles, an eating slowdown will give her stomach and intestines a break while they recover. If her symptoms include fever, however, a decreased appetite needs to be looked at more carefully because a baby needs additional calories to fuel the fever that fights an infection. Check with your pediatrician about your sick child's nutritional needs, and know that for most minor illnesses, no special diet is necessary. Then follow these general guidelines for feeding your sick baby:
Encourage her to drink. If your baby has a fever, a respiratory infection (such as a cold, influenza, or bronchitis), or a gastrointestinal illness with diarrhea, it's important to stress fluids over solids to prevent dehydration. Babies who are on breast milk or formula alone should eat as often as they like, unless the doctor recommends otherwise. For an older baby who has started solids, offer clear liquids and foods with high water content like juices, juicy fruits, soups, gels, and frozen-juice desserts (if they've been introduced). Offer fluids frequently throughout the day, and remember that any amount — even a few sips at a time — is a good thing. If your baby has been experiencing a lot of diarrhea or vomiting, your doctor may recommend a rehydration fluid.
Serve up her favorites. When your baby is sick, certain foods appeal while others don't (just like when you're sick). So be especially respectful of your baby's likes and dislikes when illness makes her appetite iffy. If that means nothing but breast milk or formula and pears for three days, so be it.
Don't pressure her to eat. It may go against your maternal instincts, but if your baby doesn't want to eat, period, don't force it. Even if she hasn't taken a bite in 24 hours, know that the fast won't last (though let your pediatrician know about her eating strike, just to be safe). Babies tend to take what they need when they need it, and once they recover from their illness, their appetites usually recover too — big time. In fact, once your baby's bug goes bye-bye, don't be surprised to see her become a little power-eater.