How to Avoid Digestive Failure in Children?

Digestive failure is a common problem in children that's caused by a reduction in stomach irrigation. Here's what you need to know.
How to Avoid Digestive Failure in Children?
Saúl Sánchez Arias

Written and verified by the nutritionist Saúl Sánchez Arias.

Last update: 28 November, 2022

Digestive failure is a relatively frequent problem in children. It can even lead to loss of consciousness. It usually occurs after a large meal, when very intense exercise is performed, or when a sudden change in temperature is experienced. However, there are a number of measures that can be put in place to reduce the risks.

First of all, you should know that if a child experiences a digestive attack, it’s important to remain calm. It’s best to place the child in a horizontal position to alleviate discomfort and prevent possible dizziness. In addition, don’t be surprised if the situation ends with vomiting. However, if the symptomatology doesn’t cease with the passing of hours, or if the child loses consciousness, you’ll need to take them to the emergency room.

Causes of digestive failure

It’s important to note that during the digestive process, there is a concentration of blood in the digestive tract. This maximizes the utilization of nutrients. However, if the body is subjected to a stimulus that varies the blood flow, it could generate interfere with digestion. For this reason, intense exercise shouldn’t be performed immediately after a large meal.

As for the ability of temperature changes to cause digestion breaks, there has always been considerable controversy. Even the position of experts may vary in this regard. However, it’s best to avoid contact with cold water during the moments after a meal. It’s always wise to wait at least one hour to reduce the risks.

A child playing on an obstacle course in a parking lot.
If the child eats before intense exercise, it’s best to allow time for digestion. Also, it’s advisable that the meal be light.

Strategies to prevent digestive failure

To avoid digestive problems, the best thing to do is to wait between one and two hours before letting children bathe in cold water. A certain amount of rest should also be taken if the body’s going to be subjected to intense exercise. In the same way, on beach days, it will be better to have a lighter meal that’s digested more quickly.

You must take into account the fact that both fats and fiber can delay the speed of gastric emptying. Even proteins have this ability. This is evidenced by research published in the journal Nutrients. For this reason, it’s important to consider adequate preparations when activities are to be performed afterward. In this regard, a source of complex carbohydrates, a lean protein portion, and some vegetables should be ensured.

Also, keep in mind that some cold desserts could increase the risk of suffering a digestive failure, such as popsicles. These are very refreshing but can condition blood pressure in the digestive tract due to their low temperature. Consuming excessively cold water in copious amounts is also not a good idea.

What to do if you experience digestive failure?

If your child starts to feel unwell after eating, you should observe what symptoms they’re experiencing. If their skin color turns pale or they feel dizzy after a swim or a run, it’s possible that they have had a digestive upset. In this case, the best thing to do is to lay them down and raise their legs slightly to promote venous return and relieve the drop in blood pressure.

More severe symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea, may develop. Here, the key will be to ensure a good state of hydration. Otherwise, fluid loss will aggravate the symptoms and pose a serious health risk, according to research published in the journal Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America. To avoid major problems, a liquid diet should be implemented.

A young child swimming in a pool.
Drinking very cold water after eating can cause digestive failure. Even drinking cold water in abundance could also cause inconveniences. It’s best to avoid sudden changes in temperature.

It’s possible to prevent digestive failure in children

As you’ve seen, if a series of precautions are taken, it’s possible to prevent digestive failure in children. It’s important to avoid this process, as it generates uncomfortable symptomatology and could increase the risk of dehydration. Avoiding large meals and changes in temperature or intense exercise immediately after meals should suffice.

However, keep in mind that this problem is relatively common during the early stages of life and doesn’t pose a health risk in the medium term. The signs are acute in nature and will go away after a few hours.

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  • Giezenaar, C., Lange, K., Hausken, T., Jones, K. L., Horowitz, M., Chapman, I., & Soenen, S. (2018). Acute Effects of Substitution, and Addition, of Carbohydrates and Fat to Protein on Gastric Emptying, Blood Glucose, Gut Hormones, Appetite, and Energy Intake. Nutrients10(10), 1451. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101451
  • Santillanes, G., & Rose, E. (2018). Evaluation and Management of Dehydration in Children. Emergency medicine clinics of North America36(2), 259–273. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.emc.2017.12.004

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